Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary, one of 72 Baltimore public schools that closed early today. Photo by Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

It’s been a short-lived first day back for thousands of returning Baltimore public school students, with the city school administrators dismissing 72 schools early due to hot weather and their lack of serviceable air conditioning, or any at all.

After announcing last night that 65 places of learning would dismiss three hours early today due to “inadequate cooling or no air-conditioning” on a day of extreme temperatures, Baltimore City Public Schools added seven other locations to that list this afternoon. A tweet cited “problems with AC” at those additional schools.

ALERT: In addition to the schools previously announced, the following will close three hours early today, Sept. 4, due to problems with AC: Ben Franklin HS, Youth Opportunity, Dallas Nicholas, Gwynns Falls, Margaret Brent, Robert Coleman, Thomas Jefferson.

— Baltimore City Public Schools (@BaltCitySchools) September 4, 2018

The original 65, listed here, will close three hours early at any point in the 2018-19 academic year when the heat index reaches 105 degrees–it’s at 101 degrees as of 1:15 p.m., according to the National Weather Service–or when most classrooms inside reach 85 degrees and students can’t be relocated to a cooler area in the building. Students get free lunch before they’re dismissed.

To give the kids a place to go and keep cool, Baltimore Recreation and Parks opened up community centers and pools at noon.

Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English said in a statement Tuesday that the air condition dilemma “indicates how dire the need is for increased funding for our schools.”

“No child, or educator, should have to try to learn in a classroom that’s extremely hot. This places a huge damper on the learning environment,” she said.

Students at City College, one of the 65 with inadequate or no AC, took the opportunity from the early dismissal to protest their lacking facilities with a rally. “We deserve a learning environment where our education can be unaffected by the weather,” rally organizer and City College senior Henry Bethell said in prepared remarks. “This is not the first time or the last time our education will be disrupted by heat.”

Schools’ inability to deal with extreme heat has been an ongoing problem in the city and county in recent years. City Schools announced a five-year plan earlier this year to outfit all of its buildings with air conditioning, and in the meantime has established a policy for conditions warranting early dismissal.

In Baltimore County, air conditioning in schools was a contentious point for the late former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot froze school funding in 2016 until the county put together with a plan to install air conditioning in all of its schools. The one the county came up with carried a price tag of $83 million to outfit all elementary and middle schools by last year, and all high schools by the end of this year.

Not all of those were ready by today. The county announced Monday night that 10 schools, including four high schools, wouldn’t open for day one due to lacking AC and high temperatures.

It could very well be a shortened school week to kick off the academic year for the institutions mentioned above. This week’s forecast has highs in the 90s through Thursday, and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen has declared a Code Red extreme heat alert through that stretch.

Last year, Hogan pushed back the beginning of the school year in Maryland by executive order, saying it would help schools avoid the troubles of high energy bills and facilities-related pitfalls on hot August days (it also guaranteed some additional tourism dollars for Ocean City through Labor Day). Today, he announced the creation of an “independent watchdog unit” to oversee schools systems, along with a renewed legislative push for 2019 to create an inspector general position that would monitor corruption and inefficiency in school systems.

Jealous and others criticized the plan, pointing to the multi-billion dollar funding gap for City Schools that was identified in a Hogan administration-commissioned study in 2016, and saying it will only apply problematic pressure to troubled school systems.

“A political investigator run out of the Governor’s Office won’t lead to better outcomes for our kids—it’ll just create more attacks on our under-resourced schools,” Maryland State Education Association president Cheryl Bost said in a statement.

In his prepared statement, Bethel pointed to the $504 million budget surplus from this past fiscal year touted by Hogan’s administration last week, calling on the governor to send more than half of that money to the city school system.

“How can we install air conditioning when our schools are chronically underfunded?”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...