Minneapolis Public Schools students, parents and teachers came together on Tuesday to call attention to "intolerable learning conditions" during the heat wave that has reigned over the first week of school.
Participants, organized by MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, held a press conference they termed "Schools, Not Sweatshops" at Patrick Henry High School, one of the 18 schools in the district without air conditioning.
"You can't imagine what it's like," one student said. "I came in excited for my first day of school and by the end I was just trying to stay awake. What kind of bleak future is this district picturing for me that this is preparing me for with overheated, overcrowded classrooms?"
Teachers also spoke out about the lack of air conditioning as dangerous heat warnings persist in the metro area, and the local union has thanked the concerned educators who have reached out to share their experiences.
Advocates say the conditions in the classrooms are not conducive to learning, and they also argue the conditions are dangerous for students and teachers with asthma and other health issues that can be exacerbated by heat and dehydration.
The conference highlighted lack of air conditioning as the most visible symptom of cuts to education spending over the last decade.
"I can't believe that 50 years after the March on Washington, we're still fighting for equity in our schools," said Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. "We know that in more affluent districts, parents aren't tolerating this. In Minneapolis, where a majority of students are children of color, our kids don't get climate-controlled classrooms. It's outrageous."
The district did allow any absence on Tuesday to be excused due to the conditions.
With the extreme heat, did you keep your kids home today? Join the discussion on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/18iDdR5
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After-school sports canceled: http://bit.ly/1dMmGL1
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is standing behind the protesting workers as well, issuing a statement on Tuesday saying the district needs to find a resolution to what staff see as an ongoing issue at the beginning of each school year.
The statement can be read below:
The MFT had several conversations today with district leadership expressing our concerns about the health and welfare of students and staff in buildings without air conditioning. While the district did not cause the heat wave, we believe it is time to find a resolution to the problem as it seems to be something that is an issue at the beginning of each year.
Water and fans only go so far, especially when the heat gets into the 90s. Several alternative solutions were discussed with the district (like not having school on very hot days for those without air conditioning, starting one week later when heat waves hit Minneapolis, installing air conditioning in all schools even thought it costs big bucks, allowing teachers to bring in window air conditioners that would most likely end up being a difficult load for the site's electrical system and each would need mounting – if they fit in the window). The final reply was that there would be more water and more fans distributed tomorrow.
A student's education should not be compromised due to concerns arising from the temperature in their school. No parent should have to worry whether their child will be in danger of heat-related illness when they send them to school. No teacher should have to endure working conditions that places him or her in a 90+ degree room often with over 30 students crowded into a room for eight hours. The working conditions of Minneapolis teachers are the learning conditions of Minneapolis students. We must ensure we have the best teaching and learning conditions possible if we are truly being accountable for student results.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers calls on the district to create a binding plan for the future to ensure that each and every Minneapolis student goes to a school with air conditioning. It is time that we fully resource every public school in Minneapolis to give students the environment they need to succeed. It is the right thing to do by students and staff. We look forward to a conversation with staff, students and parents around this issue.
Meanwhile, the MFT will continue to work with the district leadership to find solutions as the heat looks like it is here to stay for the week.
We also respectfully invite district leadership to spend a day in a school to experience the full effects of the heat.
Thanks for your professionalism and patience.
As of 5 p.m., Minneapolis Public Schools had not responded directly to the day's protests.
A private school in Richfield, Minn., with partially air-conditioned facilities released their students early on Tuesday as the temperatures began to climb.
The Cadott School District in Wisconsin, located about 2 hours east of the Twin Cities, also closed schools early on Tuesday due to the heat. By 1:15 p.m., the elementary, middle and high schools were all closed.