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Temperatures inside Kansas City schools are so hot, students are being sent home early

The North Kansas City School District is cancelling recess and making sure student athletes stay cool during this week's heatwave.
North Kansas City School District
The North Kansas City School District is cancelling recess and making sure student athletes stay cool during this week's heatwave.

Kansas City Public Schools, which does not have central air conditioning in many of its secondary schools, will release all students early for the rest of the week because of safety concerns. Other districts in the area are canceling outdoor sports, moving recess indoors or encouraging staff to wear shorts.

Schools in the Kansas City metro are now grappling with keeping students cool in the classroom as temperatures reach records highs.

Heat index values are in the triple digits, and the National Weather Service of Kansas City warned that conditions could continue until at least Wednesday or Thursday.

Here’s a look at how local school districts are managing the extreme heat:

Kansas City Public Schools

Kansas City Public Schools will release students early from all of its schools for the rest of the week because of safety concerns.

The district ended classes early for several of its high schools on Monday, noting that many of its secondary schools don't have air conditioning units in all of its classrooms and the existing units are struggling to keep schools cool.

“Our commitment to fair and even education played a crucial role in our decision-making. It was imperative that we didn't allow uneven instruction to occur due to the heat conditions,” said superintendent Jennifer Collier. “When faced with classrooms where cooling is insufficient or where equipment struggles under the heat load, it was not feasible to continue regular classes for some and not for others.”

Collier said that many of its buildings are historic and would be costly to retrofit for central air conditioning.

Schools will either end the day at 10:50 a.m., 11:50 a.m., or at 12:45 p.m,. All students will be served lunch before they are dismissed.

Athletic teams are still allowed to practice, but only indoors this week. Local Investment Commission (LINC) will still offer before-school care for students, but afternoon care and activities won’t be available.

Collier said the Boys & Girls Club extended hours at a few of their facilities specifically to support KCPS families.

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools

There will be no outdoor afternoon or evening sports activities at Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools through at least Thursday.

All of the district’s schools are air-conditioned and will be open this week, the school district said on social media. However, students are allowed an excused absence if their parent has any health or heat-related concerns.

The school district is also writing a facilities master plan and investigating whether buildings need improvements.

Shawnee Mission School District

Students at Mill Creek Elementary in Lenexa line up on the first day of school last week.
Juliana Garcia
Shawnee Mission Post
Students at Mill Creek Elementary in Lenexa line up on the first day of school last week.

The Shawnee Mission School District canceled all outdoor recess and other outdoor activities on Tuesday. At the secondary level, the district said in a letter to families that all after-school activities must take place indoors in a climate-controlled environment.

One of the district’s buildings, Rushton Elementary, was closed on Tuesday because of a broken air conditioning unit. All of its buildings are air conditioned, but a district spokesperson said in an emailed statement that some of its units are having repairs done because they are not designed for the extreme heat.

The school district also said that it has alternative plans for lunch if service is interrupted and for transportation if students need to move to a different building during the school day.

North Kansas City Schools

The North Kansas City School District hired extra contractors ahead of the heatwave to make sure air conditioning units keep running this week in both its buildings and its school buses.

Casey Vokolek, the district’s executive director of student activities, said recess will be canceled until temperatures cool down.

“I'm sure the kids are ready to get out and burn some energy because they've been sitting in a classroom for the first time in a while,” Vokolek said. “But this week, they're having to adjust.”

Vokolek said the district also follows strict guidelines to keep student athletes cool — like shortening or canceling practices and moving them indoors or to cooler times. He said they also make sure that students aren’t practicing with equipment and are taking frequent breaks.

“Our number one priority is we got to make sure that we keep safety first,” Vokolek said. “Every person is different so we really just have to err on the side of caution.”

Park Hill School District

The Park Hill School District has moved all recess and physical education classes indoors and has also moved some outdoor practices and activities to before school. A district spokesperson said in an emailed statement that it is monitoring all events and activities scheduled outdoors.

The school district said it is also encouraging staff members to dress for the weather, like wearing shorts.

A few of the district’s older facilities have struggled to stay cool this week, according to the district.

An air conditioning unit at Union Chapel Elementary School had to be repaired overnight in preparation for school on Tuesday. The district has also had to replenish refrigerant in a few units to keep up with energy demand.

Lee’s Summit School District

All elementary buildings in the Lee’s Summit School District will keep recess and activities inside like any inclement weather day, a district spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The school district said its buildings are equipped to manage inside temperatures, and it can monitor the real-time temperature of every occupied space through its HVAC building automation system.

The athletic department also follows Missouri State High School Activities Association guidelines to keep students safe in the heat, and the district said some teams have switched to early practices this week.

To keep kids cool on the way to and from school, students are allowed to lower the windows on the bus and drivers are provided with cases of water bottles to hand out.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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