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'It's just about survival': Calls for air conditioning in Windsor schools heats up

Community leaders met outside of Prince Edward Public School on Giles Boulevard on June 19, 2024, to discuss air conditions in schools. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor) Community leaders met outside of Prince Edward Public School on Giles Boulevard on June 19, 2024, to discuss air conditions in schools. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)
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Calls for the Ontario government to provide funding to make sure every school in Windsor-Essex has air conditioning were made Wednesday as an extended extreme heat wave lingers over the region.

Mario Spagnuolo, the local president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, appeared alongside Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles and Windsor West New Democrat MPP Lisa Gretzky outside Prince Edward Public School on Giles Boulevard. They say this is not only an education concern, but also a work-place issue when the employer isn't taking every reasonable precaution to keep it safe.

"This is not just a summer issue or a spring issue," Spagnuolo said. "This happens in the fall as well. We're losing valuable time that these kids need to be educated in a very comfortable environment where they can learn and prosper. You can't do that when the rooms are reaching 35-40 degrees, plus the humidity. It's not possible."

Spagnuolo said no one is advocating to close schools down or build brand new ones, saying instead they'd rather see investment into the schools to make them appropriate for students and staff.

"We've had staff leave. We've had staff contact our office seeking medical advice because they couldn't get through the day. There's definitely people that have compromised health that are affected differently," he said.

Community leaders met outside of Prince Edward Public School on Giles Boulevard on June 19, 2024, to discuss air conditions in schools. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)

Spagnuolo continued, "It's just about survival to just get through the day, and that's not to over exaggerate things. People are leaving. When I ask teachers if students are leaving during the day, they are. One teacher said that half of her class was missing."

According to a list provided by MPP Gretzky, the public board has 33 high school and elementary schools with air conditioning, 30 without air conditioning, and six with partial air conditioning.

Earlier this week, local school boards tried to reassure parents they are doing what they can to keep students safe during record-breaking hot temperatures.

Spagnuolo said education workers are funding the system out of their own pockets to make things more comfortable for students inside the classroom.

"We have teachers that are going during their lunch to the corner store to buy popsicles. They've run out of freezer space, so they have to go to the grocery store or the corner store to buy freezers, popsicles. They're bringing in their own fans. I think one teacher had 3 or 4 fans of her own that she brought in."

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Ontario Minister of Education, Todd Smith, told CTV News Toronto that while the government has invested millions of dollars into school boards, it’s up to the boards themselves to decide what to do with the funds.

"It is the responsibility of the school board to have protocols in place as to how they deal with heat in schools, as well as addressing school renewal needs and requirements. We expect schools to listen to the concerns of parents and needs of students," the spokesperson said.

Spagnuolo added, "We're dealing with children here, and that should be a priority for this provincial government. This is not a school board problem, that's actually insulting that the minister of education, new to the portfolio, would actually say that. He should know very well that the boards have no way to increase revenue, it only comes from the government."

“Crowded classrooms and sweltering heat – we can do better for our kids,” said Stiles. “No one deserves to learn or work in extreme conditions that puts their health at risk. With scorching heat in the forecast and weather warnings, kids in Ontario’s classrooms are at risk. Our students deserve better.”

“As summers get hotter, we need to make sure that our classrooms have what they need to keep kids safe,” said Gretzky. “We saw today that Prince Edward Public School students are stuck in crowded classrooms in extreme heat – how are they supposed to learn like this? The Ontario Federation of Labour and Ontario NDP recently joined forces to address heat stress in classrooms and workplaces across the province. We’re taking action and Ford needs to as well – if he can return from his cottage.”

— With files from AM800 News

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