'No respite' from high temperatures as Windsor-Essex schools grapple with heat dome

As much of the province grapples with a heat wave, Ontario's NDP leader was in Windsor, Ont., on Wednesday to call on the provincial government to take action on sweltering classrooms.

"Unfortunately, the provincial government, whose responsibility it is, has not prioritized addressing the climate crisis, addressing the heat conditions in our schools," Marit Stiles said outside Prince Edward Public School.

She called on the provincial government to provide immediate relief and then come up with a plan to ensure all schools have cooling systems.

Stiles said she met with teachers at the school who told her that classroom temperatures were around 30 C and they were expected to rise throughout the day.

"And there's no respite. There's nowhere to go," she said.

CBC News cannot verify how hot the classrooms were. Both English school boards in Windsor-Essex refused requests to film inside schools on Wednesday.

Stiles said she's hearing concerns from education workers and families across the province about heat inside classrooms, but particularly in southern Ontario. She said the conditions are making students and teachers ill.

One parent who spoke with CBC, Robert Huxley has four children, including one in a high school with no air conditioning.

"It's hard to concentrate in school, the heats gets unbearable for them. But the teachers do try their best to accommodate them by giving them heat breaks and water breaks and extra fans in the classroom," he said.

Mario Spagnuolo, local president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says teachers are actually spending their own money to buy fans and provide refreshments.

"So we have education workers funding the system themselves out of their own pocket to make this more comfortable for kids," he said.

Every English school in Windsor-Essex has at least partial AC

According to the board, all eight high schools in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board are air conditioned, as well as a third of the elementary schools. Forty-seven per cent of the schools in the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) are fully air conditioned, but in both systems every school is at least partially air conditioned.

Shelley Armstrong, the superintendent of business for the GECDSB, says it's up to each school to provide fans out of the school's budget. She also says the board would like to have more funding.

Shelley Armstrong is the superintendent of business for the GECDSB.
Shelley Armstrong is the superintendent of business for the GECDSB. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"Well, I think we would always advocate for more funding, no matter what the issue is,' she said. "When we had the COVID pandemic, the board did receive quite a bit of money in order to put new HVAC systems in. And while that's not necessarily the same thing as air conditioning, a lot of these systems actually condition the air where it removes the humidity," she said.

Stephen Fields, a spokesperson for the English Catholic school board, said that, "In a perfect world, all of our schools would be air conditioned."

Isha Chaudhuri, a spokesperson for Education Minister Todd Smith, said the ministry provides $1.4 billion each year to renew and improve schools, some of which boards could use for air conditioning.

The province also allocated $29.5 million for ventilation in schools this year and next, and since 2020, $665 million has been earmarked for ventilation improvements, with the ability to upgrade heating and air conditioning systems.

"While the ministry provides funding, it is the responsibility of the school board to have protocols in place as to how they deal with heat in schools, as well as addressing school renewal needs and requirements," Chaudhuri said. "We expect schools to listen to the concerns of parents and needs of students."

High schools in Windsor-Essex are in the midst of exams. Classes at all schools will be ending in the middle of next week.

In the meantime, both school boards are advising parents and school staff to take measures to keep the kids cool, including things like staying hydrated, avoiding strenuous activity and wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing.