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New Fans Fail to Tame Heat at Woodson School

Nov. 3, 2008 — Despite the installation of multiple window-ventilation fans over the weekend, John H. Woodson Jr. High will continue to be open only half days for the time being because of excessive temperatures in the classroom.
Teachers staged a walkout Thursday over the school's conditions, prompting a meeting between Education Commissioner La Verne Terry and school and union officials, and a decision by Terry to close the school at 1 p.m. Friday. Over the weekend, crews installed multiple window-ventilation fans to pull hot air out of the building.
"Of the 48 classrooms at the Woodson Junior High School without air conditioning, 33 classrooms identified by administrators and teachers as priority rooms now have exhaust fans," Terry said in a release issued Monday by the Department of Education. Six of the remaining 15 rooms were to get fans Monday afternoon, too, she said.
But temperatures remained excessive despite the fans, and Gary Molloy, superintendent of schools for the St. Croix District, decided to dismiss classes at 1 p.m. again.
The dismissal was necessary "as teachers staged a job action citing excessive temperatures in the classrooms," according to Education's public announcement of the move Monday.
Principal Vaughn Hewitt referred questions about the fans, early closure and teacher concerns to Education officials.
"My priority is simply to get the children back in class," Hewitt said. He did confirm most of the rooms now have ventilation fans.
Teachers said Monday afternoon that crews had worked through the weekend to install fans, but the rooms were still far too hot.
"They were still above the 89 degrees allowed in classrooms in our contract," said Ann Louise Wilkins, a science teacher at Woodson. "We checked the classrooms at 9, 10 and 11 o'clock to see what the temperature was. One read 98 degrees, some were 94 degrees. The rooms with the ventilation fans were also too hot."
According to the contract, if the classroom temperature is above 89 degrees, the teacher can approach the principal and they are supposed to find an alternative, cooler location for the class, Wilkins said.
"But there are so many rooms involved, there is no place to put them," she said.
This is the second teacher action this year over the high classroom temperatures. On Aug. 29, just 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 portable fans as a stopgap measure, but they did not reduce the temperature. Ventilation fans were installed as a quick, relatively low-cost next step, on the theory that pulling air out of the building would be more effective at lowering the temperature than merely circulating it around.
Teachers, the teachers' union and management all agree on the need to air condition the school.
"The goal is to upgrade the electrical system and fully air condition the entire school," Terry said in the release.
Wilkins suggested a series of solutions.
"We need to put in the air-conditioning units, identify a site and build a new junior high school," she said. "I know that can't be done immediately. If it is going to take five years to do, the department should say so and say, 'Look, this is what we are going to do about a new school and this is what we are going to do in the interim.' Even if we build a new school, we still need air conditioning here in the meantime."
Teachers suggest having only a half day of school until the weather cools or fans work sufficiently to bring the temperature down to an acceptable level, and continue working to get air conditioning installed, Wilkins said. Asked what to do about the lost class time, Wilkins said that would have to be addressed later.
"I don't know," she said. "But I do know the afternoon is lost anyway, because the kids are unproductive and not learning when it's that hot."
Principal and teachers agree workers did a great job over the weekend.
"The grounds are beautiful today, the best I've seen," Hewitt said. "They've really done an outstanding job."
Added Wilkins, "Look at the grounds, how nice they are. All this was done this weekend, stuff we've been asking for, for years. All the stuff they didn't do all summer they did over this one weekend."
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