If you live anywhere on the eastern seaboard you know first-hand we’ve recently had the most frigid temperatures of the season. There were 14 consecutive days of freezing temperatures-often dipping into single digits with sub-zero wind chills. Dangerous cold and wind chills.
In Baltimore, the school district is having an even greater issue with the cold – no heat in the schools. Last week more than 60 schools complained there was no heat in the buildings (US News). The spell of frigid air put additional strain on the heating systems, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. Many heating issues emerged as boilers broke and pipes burst in some schools, she said, adding that drafts from leaky windows and generally “old conditions of our buildings” contributed (US News).
One teacher said his colleagues were bringing space heaters to classrooms and sharing tubes of caulk to block out the cold air. A picture posted on Facebook showed 62 degrees Fahrenheit inside a classroom.
While some fingers point to the old boiler systems in the schools, other point to the buildings being closed during the holidays, and no one monitored the temperatures in the schools or considered the possibility of freezing pipes.
But it seems the problem goes much deeper. A civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist and the governor had a few things to say about the heating issue.
“There is substantial deferred maintenance that happens each year with [Baltimore] City Schools because there’s not enough money,” DeRay McKesson, a civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist who grew up in Baltimore and formerly worked as the school system’s chief human capital officer, said on Twitter.
“Projects that aren’t dire … get delayed until later,” he said. “Then later comes [and] it’s a crisis. But it stems from there literally just not being adequate funding.” The Hogan administration has pushed back against the charge that city schools aren’t funded adequately. “Our Administration has fully funded Baltimore City Schools for the entirety of our time in office,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted. “In fact, we provided more than the formulas called for. The money is not reaching the classroom – ask [school headquarters on] North Ave. why?” (CNN).
Notwithstanding is the issue low income area schools face when closing schools as a large majority of the students rely on school for breakfast, lunch, and in many cases dinner. Additionally, parents cannot afford to take days off to stay home with their children.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Kids can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in freezing classrooms and in schools with no heat, frozen pipes and frigid winds coming in through drafty windows. These conditions are unsafe, unbearable and unacceptable for students, educators and school employees” (US News).
Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin is a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary School. He wrote on Twitter. “I got two classes in one room, kids are freezing, Lights are off. No computers. We’re doing our best but our kids don’t deserve this. “It’s really ridiculous the kind of environment we place our children into and expect them to get an education.”
These stories drew the attention (outrage) of Samierra Jones, a graduate of the Baltimore City Schools, and current senior at Coppin State University. Jones helped spearhead a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe to raise $20,000 to purchase space heaters for the schools. As of Monday, the fund had raised $76,000.
The outrage continues. According to the Baltimore Sun, while crews worked over the weekend to fix frozen pipes, and broken boilers, eight schools were still closed on Monday. This equates to several days students may be without a meal. City Councilman Zeke Cohen said the conditions in city schools “constitute a crisis of enduring injustice.” He planned to introduce a resolution Monday, calling on city partners to ensure students have access to free meals even when schools are closed (Baltimore Sun).
To wit, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said “To deal with 60 schools all being offline at the same time was a tremendous effort” (Baltimore Sun). She instructed the Recreation and Parks Department to open centers and provide food in neighborhoods where schools are closed.
This week, Governor Hogan said, “Because of the immediate, horrendous, failing HVAC systems crisis in Baltimore City, immediately, today we are providing an additional $2.5 million in emergency, discretionary funding,” Hogan said he is withdrawing the $2.5 million from the state’s “catastrophic event” account to help get the heat back on in Baltimore City Public Schools. “Let me be clear, this is not to reward the people who are responsible who have failed. This funding is literally about saving kids from freezing in winter. We simply cannot allow children to be punished year after year because their adult leaders are failing” (WBAL).
Eldridge Cleaver once said, “You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem.” Perhaps it takes a crisis like this for Baltimore and other cities to begin to uncover the dysfunction and misappropriation plaguing urban public schools. That would be a good thing. Reading about the many people who have stepped up to help the children in Baltimore is also a good thing. There is hope in a time of despair.
These are my reflections for today.
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