Updated 07/21/11 – 4:46 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s hard to imagine, but some children are going to school without air conditioning during this heat wave.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, parents with children in summer school at William Penn Elementary School were gathering Thursday morning to speak out against what they’re calling “unbearable conditions” in the classrooms.
Their protest fell on the same day that dozens of students have to take a very important test.
“It’s inhuman for them to continue doing what they’re doing,” one local school council member said.
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The school has 150 students currently enrolled in summer bridge and summer school programs, which end on Friday. Roughly 23 of those students have asthma.
The assistant principal said several students went home sick this week with heat-related illnesses.
Parent Cheryl Fox, whose son is among 23 students at Penn with asthma, said fans will only do so much.
“If it’s hot inside, then I feel like the fans are only blowing out hot air.”
The windows at Penn were open Thursday morning so that students can get some fresh air.
Kenya Dye’s son, Dakota Ivy, was in one of the classrooms at Penn, preparing to take the ISAT test. Dye said she’s worried he won’t be able to do his best on the exam because it’s so hot.
“That’s not fair because he won’t progress to the 4th grade if, in fact, he can’t pass the ISAT and if heat is a factor, I don’t think it’s fair,” Dye said. “They should be able re-test or postpone the test until the early part of the school year or until they get adequate cooling devices.”
Rev. Robin Hood, a local activist, visited the school Thursday morning.
“What I see in the school is a fan in the hallway that’s blowing incredible heat,” Hood said.
He said that about a third of the students in summer school at Penn were taking the ISAT test on Thursday. He said the principal tried to bring some kids into her office for the test, because her room has air-conditioning.
“She can’t accommodate, because it’s 53 kids taking the test, so they’re being creative as possible. I’m on my way to get water now,” Hood said.
In an email, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that CPS delivered 24 fans to Penn Elementary on June 7.
“If children are sick because of heat or any other illness they will not be penalized if they need to miss class. Also, the children there taking the ISAT today will do so in offices that are air conditioned – and if any child is sick today (due to heat or another reason) they can take the test tomorrow,” Carroll said.
“We’ve been advised that the principal has already cleared space to accommodate the testing. CPS had earlier advised schools that children in non-air conditioned classrooms who are taking the ISAT do so in cooler, well-ventilated areas of their buildings. Many buildings have cooler or air conditioned office space, libraries or computer labs that can be adapted and used in the short-term for other purposes. The principal has been rotating students into cooler areas all week at the school.”
On Wednesday, Hood passed out 240 water bottles at the school.
Dye said her son got some of that water on Wednesday, “so I guess it’s helping.”
Water will help again on Thursday, but dye said she’s worried about more than her son suffering from heat exhaustion.
“He’s asthmatic, so I’m wondering if the heat will trigger his asthma, if heat is in fact an issue,” Dye said.
She said she hopes Chicago Public Schools officials will listen to concerned parents like her, who want heat days in place just like snow days.
Penn is a “Track E” school, which means the regular school year begins in about two weeks. If the heat sticks around, CPS might need to invest in more than just a couple of fans in each classroom.
Parents said that air conditioning units were donated to the school last year, but never installed in the 103-year-old building.
Carroll said she hadn’t heard of that, but said CPS has gotten “very few complaints from schools or parents about the heat.”
As CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reports, summer school students at Ernst Prussing Elementary had similar stories about what it feels like inside a school with no air conditioning on a day with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.
“We feel like we’re just … We feel like we’re baking,” student Christopher Nolan said.
Schoolmate Eloy Lopez Jr. said, “It feels, like, super hot. You can barely breathe in there. They had to give us ice today, because it felt like a heat wave.”
Students said the only relief they got was from portable box fans in the classrooms.
“I think they should put in air conditioning and move us to the mobiles,” Nolan said. “If they don’t want to move us to the mobiles, then why not just pick a different school (that has air conditioning).”
Parents said they don’t understand why the kids weren’t moved to the air-conditioned mobile pod units behind the school.
“We can’t seem to get a correct answer,” Antoinette Nolan said. “They’re on the second floor with fans in the window and bottles of water and that’s it. This is the second day this has happened.”
There are two mobile units at Prussing. One has a raccoon problem and animal control officials were working to fix that situation. Then it needs to be re-sanitized and ceiling tiles need to be replaced so that it is classroom-ready.
The second mobile was not used because all classroom furniture had been pulled out to clean the floor. The principal said he will have his custodians move all the furniture back into the rooms as soon as they arrive Friday morning. He has 11 classrooms of summer school and will rotate the students through the air-conditioned classrooms starting Friday.
According to CPS, 80 percent of CPS summer schools are either fully air-conditioned or have partial air conditioning and fans.
“The CPS operations team has been very proactive in assessing needs of every school well before the heat wave hit and have distributed 1,500 fans this summer,” Carroll said.
She also said that CPS issued guidelines to all schools to help deal with the heat, including tips like drawing window shades, turning off lights, using fans, keeping children hydrated and moving kids to areas of the building that are most comfortable.
CPS also has advised parents to have their kids dress comfortably and to wear light clothing, Carroll said.
“For kids enrolled in summer school, our schools are a place where they will be most the comfortable, stay hydrated, get the nutrition the need and stay safe and off the streets,” she said.
Carroll said CPS is already drowning in red ink and can’t afford to install air conditioning in every classroom.