On the heels of a summer that broke records for its brutal heat, many Houston ISD students returned to classrooms that failed to provide refuge from the scorching temperatures.
Schools reported more than 1,600 issues with their air conditioning systems over the first two and a half weeks of school — a time span that included seven days of 100 degrees or more, according to the National Weather Service.
The Houston Landing obtained HISD’s maintenance logs through a public records request and compiled the results into an interactive map and searchable database. The documents showed that some schools had to request air-conditioning service over and over as problems appeared to persist even after maintenance staff had come and gone.
Four campuses — Sanchez Elementary School, Lanier Middle School, Oates Elementary School and Burbank Elementary School — each needed more than 20 fixes over the first 13 instructional days. Another 20 campuses flagged at least one air conditioning problem a day, on average, over that span.
HISD said air conditioning problems this year have been significantly worse than in years past, needing over 500 more fixes over the first few weeks this year than last year. In 2021 and 2022, HISD schools reported roughly 850 and 1,050 cooling and ventilation issues, respectively, over the first two and a half weeks of class, according to district data. Things are worse this year, in part, due to the scorching temperatures, HISD said.
“The cumulative heat load has placed a lot of stress on classrooms and buildings, some of which are more than 75 years old. We expected and planned for an increased workload and have been able to keep schools open every day,” HISD spokesperson Jose Irizarry said in an emailed statement.
Kenya Ellis is a parent of children at Bellaire High School and Meyerland Middle School. Her kids spent uncomfortable, sweaty days in the classroom at the start of this school year, she said.
“My son has complained about the A/C issues and the campus is trying to address it. However, it is a slow progress,” Ellis said in a Sept. 12 email to the Landing.
At the beginning of the year, HISD Superintendent Mike Miles acknowledged the difficulty of keeping classrooms cool, but said his team had it under control. On Aug. 28, the first day of classes, Miles said he deployed 50 technicians across the district and stipulated a threshold of 82 degrees or below for safe learning.
“Air conditioning is always an issue for schools this time of year, especially this year with over 100-degree weather,” Miles said in a press conference after the first day. “We did not miss instruction today in any of our schools as a result of air conditioning and no school had to shut down.”
But in some cases, temperatures appeared to reach beyond the 82-degree cutoff. Naxhiely Ramon shared a photo of a thermometer reading 86 degrees that she said was taken inside a classroom in her child’s school, Browning Elementary.
“The kids are really struggling,” Ramon said in a text message Sept. 8. On Sept. 14, she followed up with a photo of a thermometer reading 72 degrees and said the issue had been resolved.
The heat and humidity got so bad at Bellaire High School that mold began growing on classroom equipment, said two teachers who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
Miles has said HISD does not have the room in its budget to make all the improvements necessary to its facilities and that the district will likely seek to pass a bond to fund those repairs in the fall of 2024. The last year HISD passed a bond package for maintenance upgrades was 2012.
“Our kids deserve facilities that don’t have old chillers and HVAC units,” Miles said.
See below for a searchable database showing how many maintenance requests for air conditioning each school made from Aug. 28 to Sept. 13.