Summer lovers have been in their glory over the last several days. Beginning last weekend and continuing on through much of this week, temperatures soared to levels more commonly seen in mid-July than early-June, and humidity rose to a few percentage points beyond uncomfortable.
The early heat wave sent many looking for the nearest pool, pond, or open beach, while others dusted off their air conditioning units a few weeks before they’d originally planned.
For those dreading the heat and humidity of a usual New England summer, there’s good news. According to forecasters, temperatures are on their way back down to normal-for-June levels—70s during the day and comfortable 50s overnight.
But before the temperatures recede, they will have forced yet another interruption to education in Cheshire...and reminded everyone that the community needs to begin the process of updating its school buildings as soon as possible.
This week, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan made the determination that all schools, except for Highland School, would have an early dismissal on Monday. The move came because Solan determined that having masked students and teachers in buildings that have no air conditioning as temperatures rise beyond 90 degrees could spell danger. Since Highland is the one school that does in fact have air conditioning, students remained in school throughout.
No doubt, the decision to dismiss early was as much about the need to mask as the lack of air conditioning. Simply put, masks make breathing more difficult and asking teachers and students to spend six to seven hours in hot schools with masks on could have easily caused unnecessary problems. June routinely produces a few summer-like days before classes let out for the year and it rarely requires any action on the part of the school district, but mask mandates make for a whole new dynamic.
Yet, the fact that Cheshire schools, aside from Highland, can’t flip a switch and turn on the AC shows that, while the bones of the individual schools remain solid and the educational environment for students continues to be sound, the capabilities are just lacking. In 2021, hot days shouldn’t have to impact schooling.
Of course, the need for air conditioning is not driving the efforts to refurbish Cheshire’s school infrastructure, nor should it. If the only thing lacking about the buildings were their AC units, it would be of minor concern considering the fact that warm temperatures can only ever impact a few weeks, at most, of the school year. But it is a symptom of a bigger problem.
Cheshire’s schools are outdated, and they need to be equipped to better handle the demands of 21st century education, integrate technology more seamlessly, and offer certain amenities. They need not be palaces, nor cost so much as to dramatically increase an already high tax burden on local homeowners, but the status quo just isn’t acceptable.
Summer vacation is approaching for students, and many around town may be looking to make up for lost time over the next few months. With the pandemic subsiding and things opening up all around the state and country, it’s likely people are going to be looking to get out and enjoy life this summer.
When the vacation ends, however, Cheshire will have some big decisions to make. A local election approaches in November, and it’s likely voters will be asked to weigh in on some big-ticket referendum items at that time. Undoubtedly, a few will pertain to school modernization.
And when making that decision in the fall, it might be appropriate to remember back to the early spring, to a time when some hot days sent students and faculty home. Cheshire’s schools shouldn’t have to be the best that money can buy, but they should be better equipped to handle things like a mini-heat wave.