HILLSBOROUGH: Hot conditions throughout school district force early dismissals

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Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
Students from all nine of the Hillsborough Township School District’s schools were sent home early this week, as a lack of consistent air conditioning resulted in what officials said were “unhealthy conditions.”
As the mercury rose to upward of 95 degrees outside, district officials decided to close schools early on Monday and Tuesday, as kids prepare for finals and graduation during the final week before summer break.
According to district officials, all afternoon kindergarten and preschool classes were canceled and lunches were not served as a result of the early dismissal. Additionally all after-school activities were canceled, along with after-school care services provided by Catholic Charities.
District Business Administrator Aiman Mahmoud said the decision to close early was made by Superintendent Dr. Jorden Schiff.
“As with all early dismissals, the decision was made … after consulting with individuals including building principals, district administration, buildings and grounds personnel (and others),” he said.
With the school year coming to a close, officials said the district will not be required to make up the lost time.
As a result of the early dismissal this week, students at Hillsborough High School were sent home by noon, Hillsborough Middle School students went home at 12:30 p.m. and Auten Road Intermediate School students left at 1:15 p.m.
Morning kindergarten students at both Amsterdam Elementary School and Triangle Elementary School left at 10:20 a.m. Similarly, morning kindergarten students at Hillsborough Elementary School, Sunnymead Elementary School, Woodfern Elementary School and Woods Road Elementary School were dismissed at 11 a.m.
The remaining students at Amsterdam and Triangle Elementary Schools left at 11:50 a.m. and the rest of the student body at Hillsborough Elementary, Sunnymead, Woodfern and Woods Road were dismissed at 12:30 p.m.
Since the decision to close schools early came at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning, Mahmoud said parents were alerted to the early dismissal in a number of ways, including the district’s SchoolMessenger system, its social media, the educational access channel and a posting on the district’s website.
Though there was little notice for parents leading up to that moment, Mahmoud said the district had contingencies in place.
“On the first day of school, parents are sent home an emergency dismissal form which they complete and return to their child’s school for such instances as today,” he said on Monday. “The form reminds parents to talk with their children about their emergency plans.”
The early dismissal and cooling issues throughout the entire district are a continued problem for officials that dates back as far as last September, when similar conditions caused parents and officials to raise an uproar over the lack of air conditioning for students.
At that time, schools were not dismissed early and teachers were left to find solutions for their kids, including moving their classrooms into cooler areas of their respective schools.
During a recent Board of Education meeting, Schiff said the district was still working out how it can address its air conditioning problem, even after having contracted an AC provider to install three 25-ton units at ARIS and HMS.
Those three units, two at ARIS and one at HMS, are being used to provide cool air to the gymnasiums at those schools. Once cool, teachers have the option to sign up on an “excessive heat schedule” with school administration to allow for students to cool off throughout the day. Those options were available to classrooms earlier this week.
“Cooling stations and schedules are temporary fixes,” Hillsborough Education Association President Henry Goodhue said. “It’s not completely constructive for learning to move, say, a math class there when there are already literacy classes going on there.”
Goodhue said the situation proved to be difficult for teachers and staff, as well as the students.
“We’re still having issues with maintaining climate controls within our buildings, both heating and cooling. We have elementary schools that do not have adequate cooling zones,” he said. “They’ve taken steps to address this at the middle school and Auten Road, and I appreciate their decision with consideration to the staff and students for today and tomorrow, but there is still a lot of work to be done on our infrastructure.”