Fremont high school students feel the heat, literally

Craig Gordon is steamed. The Paul Robeson High School teacher just told the school board that several classrooms at the small school, located on East Oakland’s Fremont campus, have reached sauna-like temperatures (OK, I’m paraphrasing here).

Since school opened on Monday, Gordon said, the temperatures in some rooms rose to the mid-80s and even the 90s.

“It seems like something is really haywire,” he said. “It’s not a good way to open school. Students are sweating … and they’re just not able to concentrate.”

I remember hearing last year about the winter chill creeping into the classrooms. How widespread are these climate control problems in Oakland, and how hard (i.e. costly) are they to fix?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Maria Ku

    My very academically-minded daughter rates her preferences for her classes in order of temperature. It is so hot in Montera it is truly impossible to study. She tells me copper pipes that are part of airconditionning system were stolen from the school overnight to be sold as scrap metal.

    She tells me an animal shelter would have been disbanded by animal rights activists had the temperature there stayed at Montera’s level.

    Does anyone know how soon (I’m really hoping for hours here, not weeks) will this problem be fixed? They told them that the nearby Joaquin Miller school’s stolen pipes will be replaced first, before they’d even start working on Montera.

  • Betty Olson-Jones

    When I taught fifth grade at Sequoia, my room got so unbearably hot that we did a science project to track the temperature day by day. For weeks on end it was in the high 90’s, as high as 98! My principal was very supportive, but when I called the District, their response was “You don’t have any ventilation; get fans.” The fans didn’t help since they just circulated hot air. Air conditioning was out of the question due to expense, though you don’t see any downtown administrators sitting in steam rooms…

    You might consider taking your students on a field trip to downtown administration so they can check out the air conditioning…

  • peter

    Classrooms are hot… that was true when Oakland only had a one room school house and it will always be true. It’s also true at the district headquarters, where there is actually NO air conditioning. In newer portables at school sites, AC is standard, but unless people are willing to pay more taxes, heat in classrooms will remain an issue… 10 days a year.

  • Craig Gordon

    The comment from Peter implies that this is an unsolvable problem (because a solution supposedly costs too much) or an insignificant one (it’s only for “10 days a year.”) He’s wrong on both counts. (1) Many classrooms have this heating and a/c problems throughout the school year; I’ve taught in rooms that often heated up into the 80s and 90s when it was much cooler outside! And of course many students and teachers literally chill during colder months, but also when it’s relatively warm outside. The extremes of hot and cold stem from a combination of factors: lack of a/c or working heaters, poorly designed or malfunctioning temperature control systems, and inadequate staffing to provide needed maintenance and repair. (2) As for the expense, consider what Mayor Dellums told a public hearing on Oakland Public Schools last June: If we identify the size of the problem, the money will be there. Indeed billions of dollars flow into Oakland-based corporations and the Port (which has revenues of about $34 billion annually). If parents, students, and educators unite in a movement to demand that corporate Oakland pay a fair share to support public schools and other services, the money indeed will be there.

  • Richard Dulkin

    I am a teacher at Fremont High School in the College Preparatory and Architecture Academy.
    It has reached into the high 80’s very frequently. Since I have a classroom full of computers, when it gets over 80 degrees in the classroom, I have the studdents turn off the computers and start doing drawing assignments. Since we spent a whole lot of money on those computers it would seem that we should be able to use them, but not at that temperature. It is not a safe, comfortable, or nurturing environment. So OUSD do you want the students to learn or do you want them to just sit and sweat?

  • peter

    I have no intention of implying that this is an unsolvable problem… and while it is not insignificant, it is not nearly as pressing problem as teacher vacancies, low test scores, special education law non-compliance, abused/neglected children, and underserved students, all of which are problems at every site and office in OUSD. And while every district in the nation (especially urban ones) struggles with facilities issues around temperature, at least in Oakland we have a much more temperate climate. Again, I am not ignoring student (and staff) comfort, but this is guaranteed to be a problem in any school (and any other building), especially in ones the age of Oakland’s. In fact, my apartment has the exact same issues in summer and winter, but the costs to fix are simply too high… in my apartment, I’d rather buy groceries, and at my school site, I’d rather we hire teachers and buy supplies.
    As far as the money being there, certainly it exists… but it is not anywhere near the schools! Oakland based corporations etc have always had this money, but it has never gone straight to problems in the school district. To imply that it suddenly will, as the disconnect between corporations and Oakland widens, is not reasonable. Certainly it COULD, but even if this huge cash flow begins…. do we really want to pump it into air conditioning???

    note: Today, ironically right after my earlier post, I met with the engineer who is responsible for overseeing the AC they evidently plan to install at my site. Evidently this is the plan for all sites, it is just a matter of time… now our question is—how will instruction be affected while they cut out classroom walls and install ducts, and is it worth it??? But first… all the other concerns I mentioned above.

  • Raleigh McLemore

    It is very difficult for students to maintain their focus and do their best when the temperatures are so hot. The post that says this might only be “10 days” ignores the fact that as our teaching materials become increasingly dense with anectotal information due to standards, testing and NCLB stuff a student might miss a critical few days that makes it difficult for her or him to catch up. A few days can make a pretty big difference. I remember this myself when I missed a week of Geometry and came back unable to catch up. A few days can make a big difference. The heat is happening as we explain our class rules, review important materials and set the culture of the class. While the Bay Area isn’t hot for months at a time it is hot enough to make it a little more difficult for students who are fighting to learn.

    Given the age of many of Oakland’s schools the lack of ventilation, in my opinion, combined with the heat makes a nearly perfect growth medium for mold. I was told 9 years ago that you could test nearly any older school in Oakland (as they did at Horace Mann) and find serious mold species. If air-conditioning might be overkill at some sites, the district could easily provide far stronger ventilation.

  • Bob Mandel

    Peter’s premise is that while there is money in Corporate Oakland, it is not and will not be readily accessible? Why? It’s a question of political will among teachers, parents and students. Case in point: Jack London Square and the Oakland Tribune had decades long practices of segregated hiring through l965. A person of color could not hold a job dealing with the public at JLSquare (no waiter, waitress, cashier, manager) nor any skilled job at the Tribune. 6 consecutive months of weekend in, weekend out demonstrations by Oakland residents supported by Berkeley students won a written agreement between the civil rights coalition (an ad hoc group) and the employers to immediately end these discriminatory practices and with documentable numbers. The City of Oakland played no role in support of these efforts except to mass hundreds upon hundreds of City Police to confront the demonstrators every weekend. Remarkably, given the OPD’s deserved reputation for brutality and its already established record of attacking demonstrators, the demonstrations remained non-violent.

    On April 7 and May 19th, the teachers union (OEA) with the support of AFSCME 257, Alameda Green Party, ACORN, the Port Action Coalition, USLAW and others launched a similar effort to to force Corporate Oakland to pay for schools and social services. First we demonstrated at the Port HQ. Later, we picketed two major shippers at the Port who handle major war contracts. The longshore workers honored our lines, shutting down both operations for two shifts, and highlighting that the Port should be used to generate funds for social services not for war profits.

    If these initial demonstrations grow over the course of the year, they can—WITHIN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE—result in agreements that qualitatively increase the funds available to the schools (and to facilities like Highland Hospital). That money could be used to immediately reduce class size in Year 4 Schools to 15:1, rehire every laid off custodian, rehire the nearly 40% of the steamfitters who OUSD laid off over the past 5 years whose absence guarantees that the old pipes and AC units will continue to roast or freeze our students, etc.

    Can’t be done? Try it! Wednesday a group of OEA members distributed leaflets at City Center at the Noon Concert to point out that Shorenstein Properties, the City’s biggest landlord, which “generously” supports 8 concerts a month, pays not a dime toward the City schools. Nor do any of the other Commercial Real Estate interests who continue to profit from the booming downtown office market where rents have increased 300% over a decade. People who got the leaflets were interested and astonished (and disgusted) to discover that Corporate Oakland ducks its tax responsibilities. Shorenstein called the cops (again) but as in past experience, our knowledge of the Pruneyard decision giving free speech access to multi-tenant commercial “public squares” meant that after a lot of harassment, no one was busted.

    Skoop Nisker, longtime iconoclast and radio newscaster, used to say: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some yourself.”

  • Maria Ku

    Temperatures in portables are unbearable. Normally portables have AC, but in many Oakland schools AC pipes were stolen for scrap metal over the summer (an inside job?) and the schools only discovered the fact when they tried to turn AC on on Monday.

    Meanwhile, it has been discovered that the nationwide waitlist for AC replacement parts will take a while, so don’t hope for a replacement any time soon, we were told.

    Children get sick locked up in extreme temperatures. There are no fans (neither extra, nor any) for the affected classrooms.

  • Victor Valerio

    As an alumnus of 2001, it is a sad sight to read about a high school that has gone through office politics and district negligence in its past years and is still in the misdt of inadequate attention. Climate control is not ‘rocket science’, of course for commodities of board members and a state representative,in their own offices is not an issue, but the very funding they take for their salaries is truly meant for their students’ accomodations, if the budget is such a crisis- cut tehir salaries to two thirds- that’s an investment.

  • jim2812

    Many Oakland Schools are built so the windows don’t open. If it is too hot in the room then both teachers and students have a right to leave.

    Now we have a value conflict. High test scores are pushed as the ultimate NCLB value
    and leaving that hot room may leavel high test scores behind. Common sense says
    leave that hot room, NCLB says stay behind.

    In 2007 America, isn’t it self-evident that school administrators and teachers have abandoned common sense when they would even give a second thought to staying in a sweltering encapsulated classroom.

    Advocates of NCLB praise the realignment of all human values subordinated to the goal
    of obtaining a high-stakes test score but that is the source of its destructiveness.

  • ex Oakland teacher

    The temperature issues in Oakland are obscene and widespread. The older portables do not have AC. The buildings do not have AC. It is quite common for the heat not to work in the winter. Children cannot learn when they are uncomfortable. It is unbearable.
    Most adults would not tolerate these conditions. I challenge lawmakers and politicians to spend a few days in OUSD
    classrooms, then I think we would get some action.

    When I was a beginning teacher, the Beginning Teacher Support Association met on Saturdays in a Middle School that was so cold that we all had to bring blankets and wrap ourselves up.

    The first thing OUSD needs to do is fix the physical conditions. In Maslow’s hierarchy physical needs are the first level. It is only when these needs are met that the students and teachers (?) will be able to develop and progress.

  • advokids

    As a “downtown administrator” I take issue with Betty Olson-Jones’ comment regarding air conditioning in administrators’ offices. My office has been a steam room these past few days as well and I have yet to be in any administrator’s office that has air conditioning. WHere are these air conditioned offices? In fact, as I visited classrooms this past week I was happy to be at several elementary school sites whose classrooms’ were air conditioned! I was in no hurry to return to my “steam room”! Betty Olson-Jones needs to take a field trip hersef to downtown administration and become more informed before speaking out. Knowledge is power!

  • sharon

    I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to formally document the temperatures that you experience in these school settings, cold or hot. And keep on it.

    The best responses I’ve had to my complaints are when I have included accurate and very, very specific documentation. Actual numbers, dates and times, and even photographs will verify the issue, make it indisputable and real. When the degree of discomfort is absolutely objective, not subjective, then it is more difficult for others to dismiss it. By the way, around 71 degrees seems to be the optimal temperature for work productivity.

  • ex Oakland teacher

    Downtown doesn’t have AC either, but I am pretty sure it does have heat, soap, drinking water, and toilet paper which is more than most schools.