KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Kalaheo High School science teacher has been measuring the hot temperatures in his un-airconditioned classroom since public school started last month and found it was108 degrees there Monday afternoon.
This development came not long after Cory Rosenlee, the recently elected head of the teachers' union, said he wanted the Department of Education to consider canceling school on "heat days" -- since more than 90-percent of Hawaii's public schools do not have air conditioning.
It's surprising that the Kalaheo teacher recorded those high temperatures in his classroom, not far from the relatively balmy breezes of Kailua Bay in this Windward community where temperatures are usually much lower than places like Central Oahu.
"It's really hard to concentrate and continue throughout an entire day like that, for the teachers and the students," said Micah Pregitzer, who has taught science at Kalaheo for 11 years. He has been taking temperatures four times a day since school resumed on July 30.
Monday, his digital thermometer recorded the 108-degree temperature at 2 p.m. in his second-floor classroom where his digital thermometer has also read 99 and 100 degrees during the school day.
"You're dripping in sweat when you're just sitting there grading papers by yourself with no students in the room. You get the room packed with 36, 38, sometimes 40 students and it just boosts that temperature up even higher," Pregitzer said.
He said despite the eight ceiling fans in his classroom, inside temperatures at 8 a.m. can start at 87 or even 90 degrees and climb higher as the day goes on.
Pregitzer said other days his classroom temperature topped out at 98, 96 and 94 degrees, and his room is not the worst on the campus, because it has some shade from large trees and is not on the end of a building that gets baked by the sun.
Annalia Seltmann, a Kalaheo senior who's a student in Pregitzer's AP Biology class, said, "That's the only thing you're thinking about is just complaining about the heat and when you talk to people that's all you say, is 'Oh, it's hot.' There's no conversation of 'Oh, what did we just learn, what are we talking about?' It's just it's really distracting from the education that's supposed to be going on."
Seltmann said closing schools when it's too hot to learn on "heat days" -- similar to "snow days" on the East Coast -- is a good idea.
"It would be, I think, productive, even to miss a day of school in those kinds of conditions," Seltmann said.
There are more than 15,000 public school classrooms statewide, but the DOE admits it doesn't know exactly how many lack air conditioning.
"We're trying to get our hands around exactly how many classrooms we have that have absolutely no AC," said Dann Carlson, the DOE's assistant superintendent in charge of facilities.
DOE officials said they lack the $1.7 billion it would cost to install air conditioning in thousands of classrooms across the state.
"We're looking at putting some portable AC units in some of these particularly hot classrooms that we have in specific areas for a specific period of time," Carlson said.
The DOE also isn't sure how many donated systems are installed at school facilities statewide.
"Are we going to go after those systems? No. We're not going to go and try to take those systems out," Carlson said.
The DOE said many public schools are more than 50 years old and their aging electrical systems can't support new air conditioning. School officials cite one example of a school without proper electrical upgrades that installed air conditioning only to blow a circuit.
The DOE estimates the average high school would spend $15 million installing air conditioning, while the costs for each middle school would be about $10 million and each elementary school would cost roughly $5 million to convert to AC.
DOE officials said the department would lack the money to pay for the massive increases in electricity if it added large numbers of air conditioned classrooms. DOE spends about $48 million a year in power costs now.