Updated Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, 3:39 p.m. EST: Baltimore County Public Schools announced that all schools would be closed today, BuzzFeed reports.
Schools around the country have shut down on account of the historic “bomb cyclone” storm battering much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions today. As BuzzFeed reports, BCPS didn’t make it clear whether the closures were prompted by the storm or by the public furor over the poor conditions reported across BCPS schools. Earlier this week, as schools reopened across Baltimore after the Christmas break, teachers and students reported broken heating systems and damage to buildings that disrupted classes across the city.
On Wednesday, BCPS CEO Sonja Santelises held a Facebook Live session to address the outcry. According to BuzzFeed, Santelises cited “unprecedented” weeks of cold temperatures and old buildings as the reason for the frigid conditions reported in Baltimore’s classrooms.
Santelises also said that a third of Baltimore schools were affected by the cold—approximately 60 buildings. She claimed that many of the heating issues were addressed by BCPS staff on Wednesday.
As a “bomb cyclone” gets ready to blast the East Coast with historically frigid temperatures, Baltimore City Public Schools were still in session today, with the school district’s Twitter account assuring students and their families that “buildings were monitored for heat & water issues throughout the holiday break.”
But what students, faculty and staff encountered at schools across this city this week were subpar conditions and frigid temperatures that forced many of the kids in the district to leave class early.
As Baltimore Brew reports, outraged teachers took to social media to share and protest the conditions. This included Jesse Schneiderman of Frederick Douglass High School, who told the online outlet that the school environment was “miserable.”
“The kids had their coats, hats and gloves on all day,” he said, adding that several teachers had to move their classes to the library so that they could have heat.
Schneiderman also posted a picture of a classroom that had been flooded after a pipe burst during the winter break. The photo shows that the square floor tiles were damaged and warped.
“A teacher in our basement, because her room is under the flooded classroom, lost all of her materials,” he said.
Another teacher, Jeffrey San Filippo, who teaches the seventh and eighth grades at Calverton Elementary/Middle School, reported that temperatures in his classroom didn’t get higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“From 7 a.m. until 2:40 p.m., when school dismissed, it never warmed up,” San Filippo said.
With only four schools closed on Tuesday, San Filippo wondered how so many unheated buildings could have been green-lit to open. Two classes consisting of 200 students at Calverton were relocated to the cafeteria, but the conditions proved too difficult to learn in. Photos teachers shared on social media showed student bundled up in puffy coats and gloves, their hoods pulled up tight over their faces.
“By the end of the day, there were only about 27 or 28 kids left,” San Filippo said.
The conditions in classes across the city were so bad, the Baltimore Sun reports, that the city’s teachers union is calling on Baltimore to shut down all schools “until officials can get a handle on heating problems.”
Edie House-Foster, a spokesperson for Baltimore City Schools, said in a statement Tuesday that the district tries to keep buildings open “whenever possible,” not just so that students can learn, but so that kids in need can receive important services the schools provide, like free meals and after-school care.
Still, the conditions documented across Baltimore left many residents enraged that the city’s students would be forced to endure such poor conditions.
As Schneiderman, the teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, said: “I just think of all that stuff about needing to have perseverance and grit, and that’s all they can say to these children,” he said. “Things we only ask of black and brown children.”