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Early dismissals continue Wednesday as high temperatures remain

October 2, 2018

Greensburg Police Officer Regina McAtee, stops traffic along North Main St. as students are let out at noon because of temperatures in the 90's, at Greensburg Salem Middle School in Greensburg, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

The Alle-Kiski Valley is no stranger to school delays for snow and cold temperatures, but this week high heat is prompting districts to release students early.

Many districts in the area have aging buildings that have either no or limited air conditioning available, and officials worry that could pose health concerns such as dehydration and overheating.

The National Weather Service in Moon is forecasting another hot and sunny day Wednesday with a 90-degree high temperature. On Thursday, the high temperature is predicted to be 86 degrees with a chance of storms between 2 and 3 p.m.

“We’re almost 15 degrees higher,” said Shannon Hefferan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon. “In some areas is would be close to record breaking.”

Temperatures reached about 93 degrees in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, nearing the record 95 degrees. Temperatures at this time of year are typically in the upper 70s.

Kiski Area and Leechburg Area school districts released students two hours early on Tuesday. Both are doing the same Wednesday.

Kiski Area students were originally supposed to start school later on Wednesday and Thursday to accommodate the meet the teacher and open house events planned for those days. Those events have been postponed in light of the early dismissals. Students will report at the normal time.

Leechburg’s schools do have air conditioning units, but because the district is being renovated they aren’t hooked up. Officials have placed industrial strength fans in hallways and provided a case of water to each classroom in an effort to keep kids cool.

“I was in over the weekend to monitor the temperatures as well,” said Leechburg Area Superintendent Tiffany Nix. “We have such a fantastic staff and great administration -- they were in early to make the adjustments.”

Kiski Area Superintendent Tim Scott spent much of his day Tuesday traveling to each of the schools in the district to get a feel for how hot they were. None of the district’s there elementary schools has central air conditioning. Only part of the high school has it. The Upper Elementary School, the newest in the district, is the only school that has air conditioning throughout.

“We encourage kids to keep water bottles with them,” Scott said. ”(We’re) trying to do as much as we can to increase air flow.”

Scott said the cost of renovating schools to install central air units is estimated to be between $10 million and $14 million. The district has prohibited installing extra window units could also put too much strain on the electric systems.

“This is kind of new ground for these hot weather dismissals,” Scott said. “A month from now this will all be forgotten, but it doesn’t help what’s going on today.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools will also have a two-hour early release Wednesday with all after school activities canceled except for athletics, which will be determined by head coaches.

Elementary students in the Mt. Pleasant School District will be dismissed at 1 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Greensburg Salem middle and high school students will be dismissed at noon Wednesday. Elementary students will get out at 1:15 p.m.

Eric Levis, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said they’ve seen several schools dismiss early due to high heat over the past week, but the department doesn’t provide any guidelines or requirements for early dismissals.

“Student safety is paramount and it is a local decision for school districts to decide how best to address the high temperatures,” Levis said.

Matt Edgell, spokesman with the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said he’s been hearing concerns from members over hot schools. He said districts appear to be taking the teacher’s input on school dismissals.

“Any kind of closure or delay is always about primarily the safety and wellbeing and health of the students,” Edgell said.

Edgell said the temperatures expected to be in the 90s could affect students’ ability to focus in class in addition to health concerns, so although it can be a pain for parents, the districts are working for the best interest of the students.

“Are they truly learning when its 98 degrees in a classroom?” he said. “If you’re on the third flood of a school building in a classroom with 30 10th graders think about the potential there for heat -- it’s like being in your attic.”

However, not all districts are struggling with the heat. Many remained open Tuesday.

Deer Lakes School District has had air conditioning throughout all of its buildings for at least 10 years.

District Spokesman Jim Cromie said students at Curtisville Primary Center had to deal with the heat last week as renovations to the school’s roof were completed, but the air conditioning was back on Tuesday.

“It’s not impacting their classes at all,” he said.

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