Op-Ed: California makes it too hard for schools to shield kids from extreme heat
When was the last time you went to a school outside of the school zone and experienced the heat? Did you wait for the school bus or take a walk to cool down? For millions of middle school students across the country, this is a question that has been a top concern for school officials.
The schools have to make sure their students don’t get sick or experience “acute environmental exposures,” according to experts. But if a student really gets ill, there are no guidelines for what a school can do to shield them from the hot weather.
“We have schools in the middle of the Los Angeles area that have been closed for nearly three weeks, for example, because of extreme heat,” says Chris Cagle, a program manager of the California Healthy Kids Association. “But no one is there to tell the schools what they’re supposed to do to help. I would have asked the school to move those schools to a cooler location and help those students.”
This was the message that the California Healthy Kids Association was hoping to communicate last week when, during a conference of education officials from across the country, they heard from some of the country’s most innovative schools. They learned the school districts are taking actions to combat heat-related illnesses, and they shared their solutions with the CAHKEA and the public.
“We had a panel of experts on heat-related illness from the CDC and the AAP,” says Cagle, who is based in Los Angeles. “We had speakers not from schools, but from the other professions in the health department. All of a sudden, it became clear that the schools didn’t have any training in extreme heat events, and they didn’t have any programs that addressed the most important issue of all when you’re talking about kids.”
The CDC makes it clear in its guidelines on what to do to help students when they experience extreme heat that even young children should be seen. The guidelines say children should be at school if the teacher is willing. If children can’t go because the school is closed or the parent is at work, the child should simply go home and spend the night in a cool place until school is released in the morning.
“It’s very important, by the way, for staff to be aware so that they can be supportive toward the student and not the other way around,” says Cagle.
In California, some schools have