BALTIMORE – Usually people – especially children – look forward to snowy days. In addition to building snow creatures and throwing snowballs, it sometimes means no school. Usually. But not in Baltimore; in Baltimore, during one of the coldest winter storms on record, children were in school. They were shivering, wearing coats, hats and gloves, in classrooms that reached highs of 40 degrees. Only after being lambasted by both parents and a teachers union did officials send the children home.
According to a school spokesperson, outdoor temperatures of 20 degrees and lower put a strain on an already-taxed school heating system. That, in addition to old buildings and heating systems in need of repairs, caused some pipes to burst in schools across the city, leading to no heating in the buildings. That was according to Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who posted a video interview on Facebook.
But according to the Baltimore Sun, schools in the city have had to return millions of dollars to the state for heating repairs:
Since 2009, city schools have lost out on roughly $66 million in state funding for much-needed repairs after approved projects ran afoul of state regulations meant to prevent waste, state records show. The money could have funded dozens of new heating systems at schools where the heat is now failing.”
The article quotes David Lever, former director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, explaining that many projects were either delayed or scrapped altogether, sometimes as a result of failure to request enough funding, or because the delays had led to deadlines being missed. The schools would then have to foot the bill themselves – which most could not do – so many would end up canceling the projects.
The uncompleted projects meant to fix the schools’ HVAC systems also means that students are exposed to sweltering heat with no air conditioning during Maryland summers.
As Baltimore’s mayor, school officials and state politicians sparred on social media over the debacle, Samierra Jones — a 22-year-old senior at Coppin State College, a historically Black university (HBCU) in the city — organized a fundraiser to bring repairs and heat to the city’s schools. “These kids are cold — they’re cold as of last month, as of last week, as of yesterday,” Jones said. “There is no reason why these babies should be sitting in classrooms with no heat.”
At press time, the fundraiser, hosted by GoFundMe, had raised more than $50K — more than double the requested $20K — in only two days time.
“Apartheid schools”: why schoolchildren of a rich state are sitting in the cold
While using GoFundMe is a quick and efficient approach to emergency financial difficulties, it is hardly a substitute for rationally and systematically addressing the heating problems of Baltimore city schools.
The problem is not that funding is especially hard to come by in Maryland in any general sense. In fact, Maryland has been ranked as the wealthiest state in the United States. The problem is more with the allocation of funds, and in particular with the systemic neglect of the needs of communities of color. The problem is that schools in the city of Baltimore are considered to be “apartheid schools.”
“Apartheid” was the name of the official government policy of separation that held in South Africa for more than 50 years. “Apartheid schools” are defined as those where white students make up 1 percent or less of the student body. In the city of Baltimore, the majority of schools have this lack of racial diversity within their student bodies. Coupled with pronouncements that simply visiting the city of Baltimore is unsafe for white children, it’s not hard to understand why the students in Baltimore’s schools were freezing in their classrooms when they should have been warm.
Another root cause and more denial
Just as GoFundMe appeals will not fix a U.S. city’s systemic biases and infrastructural issues, a policy of denial and/or inaction will not address the world’s issue of climate change. A Guardian article from December of 2016 gives a scientific explanation of how not just a warmer planet but also more extreme weather temperatures and events — such as the current “bomb cyclone” — are a result of the phenomenon.
There’s a lot going on weather-wise, much of it still being studied. But the most important piece to all of this is the belief, overwhelmingly backed by scientific data, that climate change is caused by human activity, much of which can be addressed and transformed.
Which more or less brings us back to where we started. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere created this mess. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere need to fix it.