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District leaders rush to repair broken air conditioning at 13 DC schools

More than 100 schools have open work orders related to cooling issues.

WASHINGTON — It was another sweltering hot day in the DMV and in some classrooms. WUSA9 spoke to several D.C. Public School teachers and parents who raised the alarm Tuesday about broken AC units and rising temperatures in their classrooms. Wednesday, more pictures were posted to Twitter of thermostats reading 87 degrees in the early morning.

According to the Department of General Services, public dashboard 103 schools have more than 300 open work orders related to cooling. However, city leaders said just 13 schools are experiencing hot classrooms.

Assistant city administrator Lindsey Parker said fixing the broken AC is the administration’s highest priority. Parker admits part of the problem is systems are not consistent and are out of date, with some schools having central air while others still rely on window units.

Some parents and teachers raised concerns that the administration and the Department of General Services assured the community during COVID that HVAC systems were upgraded at each school, only for failures to emerge with the systems shortly after students returned to classes.  

“We've done a lot of work over COVID,” said Parker. “But again, it's 117 buildings and the truth is the age of each of these buildings, the systems and each of these buildings is different.”

Parker said part of the long-term fix includes updating systems. She points to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s $15 Million investments toward repairs that helped DGS close 800 work orders since last month, but critics said that’s not good enough.

Eboni-Rose Thompson represents Ward 7 on the State Board of Education and said this is an equity issue. Many schools in her area have not been modernized in more than a decade. 

“These levels of heat without AC are really unacceptable,” said Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto who called to get some school emergency repairs, “As the government, we have a heightened obligation to make sure that all of our classrooms are working or functional, are comfortable. We should not be relying on individualized reporting when there are errors.”

Councilmembers have earmarked money in the FY23 budget for a public-facing maintenance website to track school repairs. She said the current DGS site is not transparent and does not give one context regarding the work order’s immediate needs. She said the new portal will allow the public to better monitor problems in the schools and hold DGS accountable for fixing them.

Councilmember Robert White whose committee overseas DGS. He said he has repeatedly asked DGS for accountability in oversight hearings. He released a statement Wednesday, writing in part, “Classrooms need clean air and safe temperatures TODAY, and I will continue working with parents and teachers to get these issues resolved.”

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