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Amid Massive Snowstorm, Baltimore City Schools Closed Because They Have No Heat

Schools across the northeast United States shut down Thursday because of the so-called “Bomb Cyclone,” a weather pattern that features blustering winds and heavy snow.  

But in Baltimore, some schools are shutting down for a different reason: they don’t have any heat. 

On Wednesday, four public schools were shut down on account of “facilities problems,” NPR reports. According to the Baltimore Sun, around 60 schools — or about one-third of all schools in the district — received complaints from teachers, students, and parents about malfunctioning heaters and broken pipes Wednesday. 

On Thursday, schools shut down on account of the complaints, according to NPR. 

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“These past 36 hours have been quite difficult for our membership and the children they teach,” Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers’ Union wrote in a statement, which was hand-delivered to the CEO of Baltimore City Schools, Sonja Santelises, on Wednesday. 

“Our teachers have been forced to endure teaching in classrooms with dangerously low temperatures, instructing students who have been forced to learn bundled up in coats, hats and gloves,” she said. “Trying to provide a stable learning environment in these extreme conditions is unfair and inhumane, to say the least.” 

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According to the NPR report, some schools remained open Wednesday despite temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit in classrooms. 

"For many kids in Baltimore, not going to school is not a snow day, it can be a day without a meal," Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen told Global Citizen. "We should all feel a sense of shame that childen are being forced to learn in either excessively hot or freezing cold environments. That should not be okay in the richest state in the richest country on earth." 

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The heating and plumbing problems at some schools are the result of “outdated heating systems, poor insulation, and aging pipes as a result of years of inadequate funding for maintenance and facilities improvements,” according to Santelises, who spoke on Facebook Live Wednesday. 

At the beginning of last year, Baltimore City Schools faced a $130 million budget gap, according to The Atlantic. Still, according to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, the state has invested “billions of dollars” into the school system, the Sun reports

In 2010, Baltimore City Schools laid plans for a major overhaul of its educational facilities, calling it the 21st Century School Buildings Plan. This plan includes building new schools, providing technology-equipped classrooms, and “provid[ing] the healthy, safe, efficient, and modern school buildings all children deserve.” 

But doing this may involve an uphill battle against existing infrastructure, or the lack thereof, as well as funding challenges. 

In September of 2017, some Baltimore City schools experienced classroom temperatures over 100 degrees, leading Hogan to withhold funds for the project until a plan to fix air conditioning systems was put in place. In all, 50 schools lacked any air conditioning, according to the Baltimore Sun. 

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This week, teachers and students posted images of students bundled in coats while attending class. 

"This issue could be solved tomorrow if Baltimore City Public Schools had the resources they need to operate effectively," Cohen said. "This is an emergency situation and emergency measures must be taken. What I’d like to see is that principles have the agency and autonomy to close schools if there are multiple classrooms under 60 degrees."

One former student created a GoFundMe page with the aim of raising $20,000 for space heaters.

“Students are still required to attend classes that are freezing and expected wear their coats to assist in keeping them warm,”  Samierra Jones, a Senior at Coppin State University, wrote. “How can you teach a child in these conditions? This fund raiser will help in purchasing space heaters and outerwear to assist in keeping these students warm.”