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Cambridge City Council Investigates 'Cooking' of Elementary School Students

By Anja C. Nilsson, Crimson Staff Writer

Students and parents of King Open School, a public elementary school in Cambridge, filled Monday’s Cambridge City Council meeting to raise awareness about the extreme temperatures in some of their classrooms.

During Monday’s meeting elementary school students complained that May, August, and September temperatures regularly range from 80 to over 100 degrees, creating an atmosphere that makes concentration difficult.

One former elementary school student noted that he thought the heat may have affected students’ scores for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System—a standardized test administered in May to measure students’ abilities in mathematics, English, and various other subjects.

“We can’t leave the kids to the mercy of the weather,” said Xuemei Li, mother of a King Open School fifth-grader.

City Manager Richard C. Rossi explained that neither his administration nor the Cambridge School Committee have ignored this issue and will continue to try to resolve it, but that finding a solution has been difficult given the old age of the building.

Mayor Henrietta Davis, head of the school committee, observed that this problem is not unique to King Open School. According to Davis, 6 out of the 12 public elementary schools in Cambridge have no air conditioning.

“I was pretty shocked and aghast to learn that we were cooking our kids in classrooms,” said councillor Leland Cheung, echoing the dismay of his colleagues.

Councillor Minka Y. vanBeuzekom drafted a public order that was approved by the Council and requests a formal investigation of the issue.

“I am frustrated that this reached us. I think it sets a really bad signal to everyone involved, and I also think it portends a problematic future for other major building issues,” said councillor Craig A. Kelley. “This is not what we do, this is not what the building manager does, this is what the school committee does.”

Two other issues on the agenda that were approved were the allocation of funds to affordable housing and a new task force that will examine the wider consequences of the Connolly Petition—a petition for a ‘net zero’ building gas emissions future for Cambridge.

At the meeting, Davis declared October “Net Zero Emission Month” due to all the upcoming panels and meetings on the issue.

—Staff writer Anja C. Nilsson can be reached at anja.nilsson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @anja_nilsson.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Sept. 20, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Cambridge City Councillor who submitted an approved public order requesting a formal investigation of warm temperatures in public schools. In fact, it was Minka Y. vanBeuzekom, not Marjorie C. Decker.

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