DENVER — As thousands of students at Denver Public Schools (DPS) returned to class Monday, many of them sat in classrooms all day without any air conditioning.
It's an issue Denver7 has been following for years, and one the district continues to address.
“To be able to teach and learn in a room that was 95, or the mid-90s, it was not uncommon here at all,” said Mia Martinez Lopez, West High School’s principal. “It was every day that I would check the temperature and just be gearing up for knowing that we would be having to make different plans to move kids out of classrooms that were too hot.”
As students at West start a new school year, they’re finally finding some much-needed relief.
West was one of 11 schools that had air conditioning installed over the summer. DPS officials told Denver7 Monday 13 more schools will have air conditioning installed in their buildings over the next year. It’s all thanks to a $795 million bond voters approved in 2020.
But several schools will remain without air conditioning for the foreseeable future.
“There are 31 schools remaining that are in need of A/C and cooling upgrades that were not addressed in the 2020 bond,” said Georgia Alexander, the bond and mill levy spokesperson for DPS. “We are exploring future funding opportunities for those [schools].”
To determine which schools to prioritize, the district ranked each school based on how hot each building gets and the percentage of students in each school who are special education learners or who receive free and reduced lunch.
“We went through a process with various stakeholders to select the schools to be included,” said Trena Marsal, deputy superintendent of operations at DPS. “We wanted to make sure that we had a formula for how we were measuring those buildings, and what were the hottest buildings. From that, we were able to create an index or heat index. We also looked at equity, which included the schools with free and reduced lunch, special education, English language learners and volatility within those schools.”
Marsal said the district closely monitors temperatures at schools with no air conditioning and brings in portable coolers and fans as needed.
“We have our building controls that help us to bring in the cooler nighttime air, which we call night purging, so that when students come into those buildings in the mornings, it is cool,” said Marsal. “We monitor the temperatures throughout the day with our staff, so that if we see any temperatures that are concerning, we can work with school leaders to possibly call a heat day.”
Scott Pribble, the director of external communications for DPS, said whenever a heat day is called, the school “will communicate directly with their families via email and robocalls.”
"The decision to release students early due to building heat is made on a school-by-school basis and all of the details are communicated directly to their community," said Pribble. "We try to make the data-driven decision the day before to provide families with as much time as possible to make alternate plans."