Oct. 31, 2008 — John H. Woodson Jr. High School will be open only half days until further notice due to excessive temperatures in the classroom. Teachers staged a walkout Thursday over the school's conditions, prompting a meeting between Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry and school and union officials and a decision by Terry to close the school at 1 p.m. on Friday.
This is the second teacher action this year over the high classroom temperatures. On Aug. 29, as the school year began, teachers walked out, demanding air conditioning in many classrooms, along with a hodgepodge of other repairs and upgrades. The Education Department purchased fans as a stop-gap measure.
"They bought hundreds of cheap fans but the fans are useless," said American Federation of Teachers Local 1826 President Tyrone Molyneaux Friday. "You find if you go to a class, as many as four ceiling fans and four portable fans, and with eight fans, the room is still over 90 degrees."
Molyneux said Commissioner of Public Works Daryl Smalls "determined the fans were merely spreading the heat around, circulating hot air without cooling. He determined one way to reduce the temperature would be to install exhaust fans to pull the hot air out."
So crews are installing window exhaust fans in a few rooms over the weekend, he said.
"They began installing one unit this afternoon," he said. "Over the weekend they will do a prototype, taking a window out, putting a board in, cutting a frame and installing a fan. From this they will determine how long it will take. Maybe by the weekend we should have an idea."
The fans bring their own problems as well. They are loud and measures will have to be devised to secure the fans from theft and to make sure no one can use the fans as a way to get into the classrooms, he said.
Over the medium term the school system planned to install off-the-shelf split air conditioning units, such as many hotel rooms have, Molyneux said, but the system's mechanical engineers advised that such units don't last under heavy use and recommended more expensive, custom manufactured industrial units. But the school needs electrical upgrades before it can accommodate industrial units, he said.
"In the interim the members have agreed to work half the day, trying to work in good faith," he said. "But any longer and it is too hot. Our members have reported the students are too lethargic, are not motivated, and have sweat dripping off them. It is not conducive to teaching and learning."
It is not certain how long the school will only operate for half days.
"We expect to go into the school Sunday to inspect and determine if the temperature is lower," Molyneux said. "But you have other work that badly needs doing. The gymnasium ceiling needs to be replaced, it leaks and there is fiberglass everywhere. The auditorium too has mold and leaks. Rainwater drains into the auditorium. The school still has a number of rooms with mold and termites and we expect there will have to be some type of mold remediation."
Mold, water leaks and other environmental problems have plagued Woodson for a number of years. In the fall of 2005, Woodson closed temporarily due to mold and other problems. Then in February 2006, former Education Commissioner Noreen Michael announced Woodson's closure for the entire school year due to a mold problem that had permeated the campus. (See: "Woodson School to Remain Closed Until August.")
Students attended the Elena Christian Junior High School, forcing double sessions from September 2005 to June 2006.
The school reopened in August 2006 and at the time education officials lauded the newly reconstructed facility.
Education released a statement Thursday, announcing the early closing and efforts to lower the classroom temperatures. Calls to St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Robert Molloy and to Woodson principal Vaughn Hewitt for comment Friday were not returned by press time.
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