Parents complain of cold classrooms in Guilford County Schools
*Editor’s note: As this article was being prepared for publication, multiple parents were reporting that all Grimsley classrooms were without heat on Monday, Dec. 9.
“Some of our schools are going without heat because there’s no money in the budget,” wrote the parent of a student at Joyner Elementary last week. In a Facebook message, Jay Parr said that his daughter Miranda spent her entire school day on Monday, Dec. 2, wearing a heavy coat.
Parr sent a link to a Dec. 3 public Facebook post by Kristin Cassell, who has children at Joyner Elementary and at Mendenhall Middle School. When contacted, Cassell gave permission to quote her post, which appears in its entirety below:
It’s 37°F right now. My kid’s school has rooms with no heat. He attends a high-poverty, majority-minority (the student body is 23.6% white) Title I school.
Here’s why this matters (aside from the fact that NO children should be learning in cold classrooms):
Our schools are segregated. As soon as a school becomes more Black, white parents scoot out (my kid’s school actually should be much more white, but white parents in our area won’t send their children to our school).
So many schools have facilities problems. That’s why I support Dr. Contreras’ new plan to fix our schools. But it’s more than that. Families with resources who can do huge fundraisers are also concentrated in certain schools. A nearby elementary school makes $20-$30,000 on a fundraiser. We just had a big one and made almost $200.
We need to hold County Commissioners (and state legislators) responsible for not fully funding our schools but we also have to realize that when our PTAs have to fill in the gaps, not all PTAs have access to the same resources.
There are parents out there yelling against Dr. Contreras’ plan to fix our schools. I want to ask them the question I learned from Nikole Hannah-Jones:
Whose children should we sacrifice?
In her response to my Facebook query, Cassell wrote that both Joyner and Mendenhall had severe heating and air conditioning problems for a while. “The air-conditioning was out for fifth-grade graduation in the spring, and when we came back after the summer, my kid’s classroom was so hot that the teacher had to put three fans in there.” She also wrote that the son of a friend of hers, like Parr’s daughter, has been wearing his coat to class.
Cassell praised the school’s principal, Denise Ebbs, who is the principal at Joyner. “She has reached out to the county to get things fixed, and I know they did come out one day this week to work on it.” She did not blame Ebbs for what she called “band-aid fixes,” emphasizing that the problem was the outdated HVAC system. “The kids will be super-hot for a while, and then someone will come out and figure out a way to make it work temporarily. Now they are cold, and someone came out and figured out a way to make it work temporarily.”
A phone call to Nora Carr, chief of staff for Guilford County Schools, confirmed Cassell’s claims.
“Joyner and Mendenhall did experience cold classrooms earlier this week,” said Carr on Thursday. “It was Monday and Tuesday at Joyner, and still an ongoing issue at Mendenhall. Both are sort of classic examples of these very outdated systems that continue to have issues. I think the reason it was so cold on Monday is that the boiler had kicked off and was actually blowing cold air into the school, and it took some repeated fixes before that problem was solved. They would reset it and start it again, and then it would switch off again.”
Carr also said she had talked to the principal at Mendenhall. “She said that they do have some parts of the building that are cold and that students frequently wear hoodies and other clothing to deal with it as a result.”
In a Friday afternoon phone conversation, Ebbs was candid about the problems facing her school.
“The biggest problem we have is the age of our equipment. Our building was built in 1955, and the heat and the air conditioning were retrofitted in the 1970s when it was remodeled. Our boiler dates from 1955, so it’s very old. It was working, and then it clicked off, and you don’t know it’s clicked off until it gets cold, and they come down and fix it, and then it clicks off again. It’s stayed on since Tuesday, so we’re hoping it’s fixed this time, but that’s the biggest issue we have with heating and air.”
I asked her if she expected to have the opposite problem once the boiler has built up heat.
“Correct. We’ll have rooms that get extremely hot. We tell our students all year long to wear layered clothes. That way, they can either add or take off because you don’t know from day to day how a classroom’s going to be when you walk in. So, we’re working with downtown every morning, when we have to call in and say hey, can you turn down the temperature in this or that room, and they turn it down for us. That will alleviate the problem for a while, but then it continues. It’s just a spiral of classrooms getting too hot or too cold.”
I asked if there was funding for getting the HVAC system replaced.
“I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve had this problem all that time. The only hope at this point, I suspect, of getting it replaced is if funds are given from the county commissioners to allot money to pay for maintenance fees. And then, hopefully, the proposal that’s planned from the superintendent and cabinet for our facilities, that would help us tremendously, because we are one of the schools that are slated to have a new school built. My teachers laugh because we don’t even have enough electrical outlets, our school is so old, so we have surge protector sticks all over the place in order to be able to operate the electrical equipment that we have. The building was not constructed for the 21st century at all, but we do the best we can to make it do.”
On Nov. 26, Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras shared a proposed master plan for the school system’s buildings with the school board and county commissioners. The $2 billion plan includes an estimated budget of $769.4 million for rebuilding schools, $423 million for full school renovations, and $254.5 million for constructing new ones. Joyner elementary would be one of the 22 schools rebuilt under this proposal.
“We really need to support Dr. Contreras ‘s plan for fixing schools,” wrote Cassell in her Dec. 5 Facebook message.