WASHINGTON — It wasn’t only hot outdoors in D.C. Tuesday. Many classrooms in the District were balmy as well.
Numerous DC Public Schools (DCPS) teachers and parents hopped on social media to ask District leaders to fix broken heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units in their classrooms.
Maya Baum has taught in DCPS for five years. She said her classroom got up to 80 degrees before she and her 22 students were transferred to a smaller, cooler room elsewhere on campus.
“There's no airflow and we're hot and uncomfortable,” she said. “You don't want to do anything when you feel like that.”
The District Department of General Services (DGS) maintains DCPS school buildings.
Baum said the administration and custodial staff routinely reach out to DGS to get HVAC units fixed, but problems persist. She said she cannot understand why this happens every year.
"When we came to our school building after having been out of it for over a year due to a global pandemic, we were told by city leaders that our buildings were ready and had had walkthroughs, and work orders had been completed, and they were ready for students and staff to return,” she said. “We had classrooms with no AC and it was 90 degrees outside. And when it was wintertime, and temperatures were dropping below freezing, we had no heat.”
DGS also provides a public database online that shows how many work orders are open for HVAC units in DCPS schools.
As of 3 p.m., May 31, there were 262 work orders open in DCPS classrooms related to cooling issues. Two-hundred-and-fifteen of those work orders were labeled as “pending assessment” of maintenance staff.
There were 100 DCPS facilities with work orders open as well. Ninety-eight of those facilities were schools.
Leckie Elementary School, in Ward 8, had the most open work orders related to HVAC cooling issues with 18. Wheatley Education Campus in Ward 5 had 17 similar orders. Meanwhile, Deal Middle School, in Ward 3, had 12.
DC reached a high of 96 degrees Tuesday, the hottest recorded temperature so far this year.
Due to the forecasted highs in the region, Baltimore City Public Schools even ordered an early release for its schools without air conditioning on Tuesday and Wednesday.
There is no word as to whether DCPS will opt to do something similar.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Evan Yeats also has three children at Thomson Elementary School in Northwest D.C. He said he can’t understand how any District leaders would be caught off by the heat in the summer.
“I think the most frustrating thing about this is that everybody knew it was getting warmer,” he said. “Everybody knew at the beginning of the year that we needed an HVAC system here. Everybody knew at the beginning of the winter, that we needed the heat system to work and it has failed at every single instance.”
Thomson Elementary School currently has six open work orders related to cooling issues.
Yeats said his children had to be moved in their school Tuesday, as well, due to the heat.
“They doubled up in a second-grade classroom and [my son’s] old class was in the library all day,” he said.
This latest school issue comes just three weeks before D.C. voters will participate in the District’s Democratic Mayoral Primary. The winner of that primary has historically gone on to win the general election later in the year.
Both incumbent D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Councilmember Robert White are running for mayor. Bowser named current DGS Director Keith Anderson as head of the department in November 2018. White chairs the Council’s Committee on Government Operations and Facilities which has oversight over DGS.
Neither Bowser nor White provided a comment to WUSA9 on the issue of broken HVACs Tuesday. However, White’s office did tweet at multiple teachers and parents that it would work with DGS to get HVAC issues at their schools resolved on Tuesday.
In 2020, Bowser also announced plans to dedicate $24 million toward speeding up the retrofitting of HVAC units at 116 DCPS facilities in support of the safe reopening of schools during the pandemic lockdown.
The candidates have also differed as to whether the mayor should have control of schools. Baum said this provides a clear reason as to why the office should not.
“There needs to be a dramatic change and like a true change,” she said. “There needs to be a change in the way power is held in the city. Mayoral control is not working. There needs to be a body that is solely responsible for making decisions around education.”
Yeats added he believes more oversight of DGS is also needed.
"The council doesn't deliver the kind of oversight that's needed to take this seriously,” he said.
WUSA9 has reached out to both DCPS and DGS for comment on this issue and has yet to hear back.