COLD CLASS: Hartford High at 49 Degrees

Hartford High School Math Class Tuesday Morning

When Nancy Kent, a teacher and the Math Department Chairperson at Hartford High School, left her White River Junction home around 7 o’clock Tuesday morning, the temperature on her hill was -18 degrees.  While many Upper Valley Schools delayed their starts to ensure sufficiently warmed buses and classrooms, the Hartford School District followed its regular schedule.

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Kent arrived at work, where her classroom thermometer registered 49 degrees.  She immediately called maintenance.  “They did not return my call or stop by.  Last year they told me to pull the tables away from the heaters.  This did not help.”

Most of the students in her classes wore hats, coats and mittens during instruction in the classroom, and Kent had blankets on hand for those not equipped for the chill.  She used toe and hand warmers herself.

Asked if teaching was impacted, the near 30 year veteran replied, “I moved (one) class to the library.  Luckily, I had a lesson that transferred as there is no white board (available) for instruction.  It was not what I had planned, but you always need a plan B in education.”

The math and adjoining second floor classroom, as well as several on the first floor, have been historically cold.  A photo of Room 118 taken on January 3 – five years ago in 2013 – shows a thermometer reading 39.9 degrees.  “It is frustrating as a tax payer.  We did a huge heating repair a few years ago - remember when they tore everything off the roof?” said Kent, referring to the 2013 Hartford High School and Technical Center bond.  According to Hartford Superintendent Tom Debalsi, “Most of (that) work was on a new electrical service, some plumbing and some heating - primarily in the gym - and the entire roof.”

Calls to maintenance and high school administration did not reach Debalsi, who was unaware of issues with cold rooms within the high school Tuesday, with the exception of a newly renovated room at the Regional Resource Center. “This was a shop area that we converted to classroom space this past summer and we are working quickly to resolve that issue.”

The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency states that there are no temperature requirements for working conditions in the State of Vermont, and the State does not detail any requirements for minimum temperatures for classrooms.  “But I certainly get concerned when staff and students are uncomfortable,” said Debalsi, noting that maintenance staff addressed heating issues at the Hartford Middle School on Tuesday as soon as they were able, and that there were no reported heating concerns at any of the other District schools.

The Vermont Principals’ Association has detailed policies for athletes in both cold weather and hot weather, the latter having been applied to excessively hot Hartford  High School classrooms in the spring.  The administration offers teachers available first floor classrooms, notably more comfortable, during stifling days in June.  However, there is no such school-wide plan in winter, extra classrooms are not always available, and swapping classrooms doesn’t solve the problem.  “I hate to complain: I love my classroom.  But I feel the need to advocate for my students and for all the other kids in a cold space,” says Kent.

Hartford High teachers continue to address the heating issues within their own classrooms, wondering why known cold spaces aren’t specifically serviced, whether or not space heaters are allowed, and advocating for delayed school openings until all rooms are sufficiently ready for students. 

Thermometer in Hartford High Room 118 on 1/3/13

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