September heat wave: Should schools stay open?

Rockford Freshman Center
Students rest on a couch as a fan blows cooler air into the room at the Rockford Freshman Center. (Sept. 22, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite record high temperatures Friday, most West Michigan school districts held classes.

Schools like Rockford Freshmen Center, which only has air conditioning in some of its rooms, tried to keep students cool by firing up fans, turning off lights and ensuring students drank plenty of water.

They also checked classroom temperatures Thursday to see what they were up against.

“The highest one was 88 degrees yesterday,” principal Tom Hosford told 24 Hour News 8.

A message posted on a dry erase board at Rockford Freshman Center sums up the goal during an unseasonable heat wave Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

A few private and charter schools shortened or canceled classes altogether Friday, including Hope Academy in Grand Rapids. Flyers posted on the school’s doors indicated classroom temperatures were reading well above 100 degrees.

Several high school football games were also delayed because of the heat.

Like Rockford Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools also opted to stay open – a decision that wasn’t popular with all parents and school staff members.

“I want my kids to learn. I want everybody safe, though. Safety should be the priority,” said Campus Elementary parent Samantha Newland, who kept her three children at home Friday.

Campus Elementary is among the half of GRPS schools that does not have air conditioning yet. The district plans to install air conditioning in all schools once it fully implements a bond that was approved by voters a couple years ago.

GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt insists safety is the district’s top priority. He said GRPS ran air circulators early Friday morning to cool down its buildings, and provided a lot of fans and water.

Helmholdt said the decision to stay open is one GRPS didn’t take lightly.

“We certainly share the concerns of our parents and our staff. We understand that this is a very tough time to be teaching and learning. We’re doing everything we can as a district to support them,” he explained.

The heat wave is expected to continue into next week, which means schools must again decide if the heat is too much, come Monday morning. However, leaders for both GRPS and Rockford Public Schools say if parents have concerns about sending their children to school on a hot day, they can call in and it will be recorded an excused absence.

Not all of Rockford’s schools are without air conditioning. The high school is among the buildings with full air conditioning.