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Weber and Box Elder School Districts shorten days because of the heat

Screenshot of a website notice that says there will be early out due to excessive heat for Weber School District.
Weber School District Screenshot

The Weber School District and the Box Elder School District are both having four-hour school days Tuesday and Wednesday because of high temperatures. A heat advisory will remain in effect for much of Utah through Wednesday evening. Temperatures could hover around 100 degrees in the northern parts of the state

Superintendent of the Box Elder School District Steve Carlsen said most of the schools in his district did not have air conditioning until a few years ago, and some still don’t.

Carlsen said he thinks there used to be a mentality that the schools could get by without A/C since it’s only needed for parts of the school year when it gets hot, like during summer months. But temperatures are getting hotter year-round.

“This is my sixth year here in Box Elder School District as the superintendent. And it definitely, even in my six years, it’s gotten warmer,” he said.

Carlsen said the heat is a safety issue for students and staff. It also hinders students’ learning.

“It’s pretty darn hard to learn when it’s, you know, high-seventies. And then it gets all the way up into probably the mid-eighties sometimes in some of those classrooms,” Carlsen said.

The Box Elder School District is working towards installing A/C in all of its schools. Carlsen said the district is prioritizing middle and high schools because A/C will have a bigger impact in those classrooms.

“Many of those classrooms in secondaries are content specific, and it’s hard to leave those areas,” he said. “We just feel like there’s a lot more flexibility in our elementaries to not have to be in the buildings.”

Carlsen said elementary school teachers have permission to go outside and have class under a shady tree.

The plan is to have air conditioning in the secondary schools by next fall, but that timeline could be thrown off if they run into supply chain issues. The district is currently waiting on some units that are backordered until March.

The Box Elder School District has gone through a beginning of the school year heat wave before, so they were prepared. They already had short school days on the calendar last week. Carlsen said those days were planned out further in advance partly because they knew the first week of September is usually hot. But this school year, the district had to extend those into the next week.

Carlsen said these shorter days won’t eat into the district’s snow days because the Utah State Board of Education counts them as full school days if they are at least 4 hours.

Lane Findlay, spokesperson for the Weber School District, said for the older buildings in the district, fixing the heat problem isn’t as simple as just installing more air conditioning units or fans.

“A lot of times we don’t even have the infrastructure with the power to run all those types of units. And so there are a lot of challenges with older facilities,” he said.

Findlay said the district did not discuss having at-home learning during this heat wave.

“We’ve just found that although that was an option that we were able to use during the pandemic, it’s just not the most effective way as far as teaching and learning,” he said.

Carlsen said the district is telling parents that if their student has a health condition and might be negatively impacted by the heat, parents can keep their kids home.

“We’ve told them that we’ll do everything we can to keep them caught up, and we’ll let them make up any work.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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