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Heat wave cuts some days short in Monroe County school districts

Buses line up outside Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 13, 2023. A proposed districtwide reconfiguration would close the middle school in the city's Corn Hill neighborhood and replace it with Rochester Early College International High School, which would move over from Genesee Street, about a mile away.
Max Schulte
Buses line up outside Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 13, 2023.

A heat wave hitting the region this week is interrupting classes for many students in Monroe County.

In the Rochester City School District, all students in kindergarten through eighth grade will have half-days for most of the week. Extracurricular activities are also canceled.

Deputy Superintendent Ruth Turner said high school students will still have full days to take their Regents exams.

“Not all of our high schools have air condition (sic),” Turner said. “What we're doing in those buildings that may not have air conditioning is utilizing fans, making sure that we have water available and limiting the area in which students will take testing so that we can provide the coolest environment possible.”

Other local schools are also adjusting to the extreme heat that’s expected this week. Elementary students in East Irondequoit, Fairport and Pittsford, for example, will also have half-days for most of the week.

In a message to families, the Fairport Central School District said Regents exams will be held in climate-controlled spaces while elementary classes will be reduced to half-days starting Tuesday.

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“This decision was based on the potential cumulative effects of several days of extreme heat in our school buildings and the impact this may have on both our youngest learners and our staff,” a district spokesperson said in a statement.

The National Weather Service said temperatures could reach the mid-90s this week, with heat index values going as high as 104 degrees.

Across the nation, schools are struggling to adapt to a hotter climate — which is expected to intensify in the coming years due to a changing climate and the continued combustion of fossil fuels in daily life.

Many schools do not have air conditioning and do not have the electrical infrastructure to install it without significant cost and labor, according to NPR reporting.

While Rochester and western New York are far north of a state like Florida, where temperatures are expected to be above 80 degrees for the vast majority of the year, the region is not immune to the effects of climate change.

Turner said leadership at Rochester schools is looking into a long-term plan to adapt schooling with the expectation that there will be more school days affected by severe heat in the next decade.

“We're in that initial process right now of calling committees together and really having a think tank around ‘how do we resolve these issues in the coming years?’” Turner said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.