Heat wave closures were tough call

By Laurie Hamame - lhamame@aimmediamidwest.com

Walking outside last week almost felt like being back in Iraq, said Oberlin Schools superintendent David Hall.

He served in the Middle East in 2004 where “the heat hits you in the mouth without any relief” and the scorching September heat wave last Monday and Tuesday felt similar, forcing Hall to cancel school for those two days.

A brutal stretch of days in the 90s and relentless humidity pushed the heat index over 100 degrees in some locations.

Hall has never before called off school because of heat but said his decision was based on a warning from the National Weather Service, coupled with the heat index.

“It’s a hard thing for a superintendent to do. You’re going to disrupt everyone and I don’t like making that call at all but I do it for the safety of the kids,” he said.

The alternative was to risk kids getting headaches or passing out due to the heat. Hall said teaching and learning would have been unbearable.

While a few areas of Oberlin High School, Langston Middle School, and Prospect and Eastwood elementary schools are air conditioned, not all units cool down to the same temperature.

Some rooms, including the libraries, cafeterias, and gyms, are lacking units entirely.

Cooling systems cannot be installed everywhere because of the wiring running through the old buildings.

Hall said he’s overheard a few residents frame the closures as part of a strategy to build a new 132,370-square-foot PK-12 school. A $17.8 million bond issue to fund construction will be on the November ballot.

More than 100 districts shut down for the day and Hall said his decision had nothing to do with the bond issue or new facilities.

But he did find it worthy to note that most of the schools that called off did so because of a lack of air conditioning.

“We definitely need to look at our facilities. This may not be the last year that we have these heat days or the heat index up like this. If (our bond issue) doesn’t pass, we have to figure something out for the kids.”

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame