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Temperature soars to the 90s — inside a CPS classroom

Jennifer Johnsteacher Lincoln Park High School administered final exams classroom where temperatures reached mid-nineties Wednesday June 8 2011. | Richard

Jennifer Johnson, a teacher at Lincoln Park High School, administered final exams in a classroom where temperatures reached the mid-nineties on Wednesday, June 8, 2011. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2011 5:50PM



Despite two fans and drawn shades, the temperature soared to 93 degrees in teacher Jennifer Johnson’s Lincoln Park High classroom Wednesday, just as her students and thousands of others sweltered through the first of two days of final exams.

“ ‘It’s so hot!’ I think I heard that probably 100 times today,’’ Johnson said. “My kids were lethargic, not happy and uncomfortable. ... I have a strong inkling the heat affected finals.’’

One out of five Chicago public schools complained about “heat-related issues” this week, officials said, just as Chicago lay covered by a thick blanket of hot, humid air that drove temperatures to an official high of 95 Wednesday, two degrees short of the record for the date.

Nearly three-quarters of schools are not fully air-conditioned, CPS officials said, although 58 percent have “some air conditioning.’’

At Lincoln Park High, that means a separate building for freshmen is air-conditioned, and the main office has four window air conditioners, but sophomore, junior and senior students — and their teachers — must swelter.

For those CPS high schools giving finals this week, the timing of the heat wave was particularly difficult.

“It was horrible,’’ said Lincoln Park High junior Rachel Jones of Wednesday’s heat. “I had to leave class five times. ... Finals were really, really hard. All I could think about was how hot it was.’’

Concerned about stifling classrooms, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she called new Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard Wednesday, and he promised to dispatch fans and cold water to overheated schools.

Even so, Lewis said, the unusually early heat wave is a reminder that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s call for a longer school year would raise the likelihood of more stifling school days in those buildings without air conditioning.

“What sounds good on paper doesn’t always work in reality,’’ Lewis said. “We have unairconditioned schools, and if you ever worked in one, it’s miserable, just miserable. ... My real concern is that we’re going to have a tragedy at some point, and then what are we going to say?”

At Lincoln Park High, Johnson tried to review for finals earlier in the week, but participation was weak as kids lay with their heads on their desks, their clothes stained with sweat.

On Wednesday, despite two fans and bottles of water Johnson paid for herself, the thermometer in her third-floor classroom hit 87 for her first final of the day, rose to 89 by the second final, and hit 93 by the third. By 3:15 pm, it was 96. Only one student aced the first final, though Johnson said had expected three or four to do so.

“I’m looking at curving my exam because of the heat,’’ Johnson said. “I’m thinking about adding points to their test.”

Brizard sent principals an e-mail alert this week urging them to prepare for the heat by purchasing water, keeping students and staff ‘well-hydrated,’ drawing all shades, turning off lights, “opening windows where practical,’’ relaxing dress codes and letting students bring refillable water bottles to school, said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. Facility officials have visited all of their schools to make sure they are prepared for the heat, she said.

CPS distributed 300 fans so far this week, and had another 1,200 available for schools that need them, Carroll said.

However, Chicago Teachers Union officials said they continued to get complaints Wednesday about inoperable windows, broken shades and poorly-functioning air conditioners that did little to combat oppressive heat.

Brooke Doyle, 14, said she sweltered through her eighth-grade graduation rehearsal Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary in an auditorium without air conditioning.

“I don’t want a longer school year without air conditioning,’’ Brooke said. “I don’t really like sweating. All I can think about when I’m hot is `When am I going to get some water?’”



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