On Day 4 of the heat wave Thursday, some Maine schools closed because of the temperatures, something school superintendents said they've never done before.
Schools in Rockland, Augusta, Chelsea and Gardiner closed or sent students home early Thursday.
“The kids were suffering. There was no learning going on,” said Judith Lucarelli, superintendent in RSU 13, which covers 10 schools in the Rockland-Thomaston area.
Lucarelli, a former Gray-New Gloucester superintendent, sent students home early Wednesday and called off school Thursday. “It was just so hot,” she said. “We have over 200 classrooms. Four are air-conditioned. . . . In my 41 years as an educator, I've never experienced this,” Lucarelli said.
She has had a wind chill advisory on her wall, a guide used to decide when students are not allowed outside in the winter. “Now I have a heat index chart.”
The school closings followed an advisory from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Education on how to keep students safe, and to consider closing if the heat index, or what the temperature feels like, reached 84 or higher. That's the same guide used by the Maine state government for state employees.
Lewiston-Auburn area schools contacted by the Sun Journal reported they did not close or close early. Sending students home early is hard on working parents who are not home, officials said. Schools provided extra water, more breaks, moved classes to cooler places, used fans and limited physical activity. There were some reports of students suffering heat-related symptoms, including headaches and nausea.
At Edward Little High School in Auburn, water stations were set up providing all the bottled water anyone wanted.
“Teachers are bringing in fans,” Assistant Principal Steve Galway said. “Today there is no makeup after school. When the bell rings, everyone goes home.”
Senior Dakota Carroll said going to school in the heat was not fun. “The second floor is doubly hot as the first floor. It makes the classes a lot longer because of how hot it is.”
His anatomy class was moved to the air-conditioned library instead of the sultry science wing. “That's a lot better,” Carroll said.
In Augusta, superintendent Connie Brown sent elementary and middle-school students home at noon Thursday. High school students stayed because the school is a new building with air conditioning, she said.
Elementary buildings “were really hot,” Brown said. With such a long heat wave, “it's difficult to get the buildings cooled down. The temperature in some rooms Wednesday was in the 90s.” Augusta schools opened Wednesday. Closing so soon after opening is a difficult way to start, she said.
In Gardiner, Superintendent Patricia Hopkins released high school students at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, middle and elementary students at 11:30 a.m.
“It was very oppressive,” Hopkins said. When she announced the early closing in the morning, “classrooms were already in the 80s. The temperature was expected to rise to 94,” which it did. “In some schools it's cooler outside than in the buildings.” Students were starting to feel sick, vomiting or feeling dizzy, Hopkins said.
Dr. Dora Mills, director of the Maine CDC, said when people get too hot “they're unable to function well. They get lethargic,” can suffer headaches, dizziness or nausea. Existing medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, can become worse from the heat.
Fans and extra water are helpful. “But when the temperature gets above 90 degrees, fans have little effectiveness,” Mills said. Some questioned schools releasing students, saying they could be sent to hot homes, Mills said. “But at home you can open the window, go into the basement if you have one” and are less restricted than in a room with 20 to 25 people. Closing is a complicated decision, and conditions vary from town to town, Mills said.
Many schools have air-conditioned computer rooms, which were used as places to cool down ill students. “Those are overcrowded rooms right now,” Mills said Thursday afternoon.