This story was updated at 7:15 p.m. June 1, 2022, to include more information. It was updated again at 8:50 p.m. June 1, 2022, to include more information.
As hot, humid weather blanketed the region Wednesday, some of the air conditioning units in Montgomery County’s public schools faltered, forcing one high school to close for the day.
A handful of others had more isolated problems, with the air shutting down in classrooms or areas of buildings, pushing classes outside to catch the breeze for relief or necessitating some classes to combine to take advantage of the cool air that was flowing indoors.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, officials at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood announced that classes would be dismissed for the day “due to a breakdown of one of the main air conditioning units at our high school.”
At that time, the temperature was in the mid-80s. By late afternoon, it had eclipsed 90, making Wednesday one of the hottest days of the year.
Magruder’s message didn’t say when the problems were expected to be resolved, and school system spokesman Chris Cram said at about 6 p.m. he hadn’t heard an update.
Parents and teachers at other schools, including Odessa Shannon Middle in Silver Spring, Gaithersburg Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, also in Gaithersburg, Rosa M. Middle in Olney and Silver Spring International Middle reported some smaller-scale problems with the air conditioning at their schools.
Cram said he had only heard about the problems at Odessa Shannon, and district officials considered closing the school for the day, but the problems were resolved before that decision was made.
“Parents need to understand we’re not going to keep children in school when it’s too hot and impossible to be in the classrooms safely and comfortably,” Cram said. “We’re working to make the systems as efficient and working as well as they can be, as quickly as possible.”
In a text message later Wednesday night, Cram said MCPS’ operations team praised maintenance employees for working “around the clock” to “get our facilities cooled down to acceptable conditions.”
“While there were a number of buildings that had unanticipated equipment failures, the team has been able to find ways to get the equipment back up and running,” the message said. The message said increased efforts to “maximize ventilation air in our classrooms to enhance indoor air quality conditions does tax the systems when we experience extreme heat” and does cause some “higher levels of infrastructure challenges.”
Cram said it’s “not unusual” for there to be some snags when the AC units are used for the first time as schools are switched from heating to cooling.
He noted other districts in the state, like in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, have experienced more severe and widespread problems. Baltimore City Public Schools closed about two dozen buildings on Tuesday that do not have air conditioning.
“The difference between us and others is … typically we’re able to fix the issues rather quickly,” Cram said. When the problems can’t be resolved in a timely manner, the schools are closed, he said.
But some parents across the district said their students returned home sweaty or with headaches and reported going to the nurse’s office to get ice to cool down throughout the day. Some teachers said they were told to take their classes outside, where it’s less stuffy.
At Silver Spring International Middle School on Wednesday, a wing of the building and the third floor were without cool air, teacher Shara Tipton said in an email to Bethesda Beat.
The school created a spreadsheet, where teachers in hot rooms can sign up to share space with others. A column was added midday for Thursday sign-ups, too.
In yellow lettering highlighted in red at the top of the sheet, the spreadsheet says: “We cannot guarantee the other room will be cooler.”
Tipton said she was happy to share her classroom space with others on Wednesday, “so students and staff don’t need to suffer,” but it was disruptive.
Eighty-plus degree “rooms are definitely not a safe or healthy learning environment,” Tipton added. “Students and staff who want to remain masked are struggling to do so comfortably in hot rooms.”
The forecast for Thursday is cooler, with temperatures in the 80s and the possibility of severe weather throughout the day.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org