Testimony of Tasaday Messina to the Board of Education, October 17, 2019

Good evening I am here today asking for an action plan to mitigate the excessive heat in our classrooms, especially special education classes like mine. Temperatures above 80 in the classroom interrupt instruction and impact the ability for students to concentrate. It is demoralizing. It feels disrespectful towards students, parents and staff, especially when no actions or plans to find a solution have been communicated with parents and teachers.

My room is one of the few classrooms at Chester Arthur without an AC unit. I teach middle school students who are on the Autism spectrum. In 25 out of 33 school days, our classroom has been above 80 degrees. And many days over 90. We have lost 4 weeks of instruction due to this negligence.

Our room is located on the 3rd floor on the west corner where the sun bakes down. By design, our windows hardly open, so heat is trapped for days with no circulation.

When the classroom temperate rise above 78 degrees Children, especially those on the autism spectrum , have sensory processing difficulties making them more intolerant and vulnerable to ambient heat. My students cannot focus. I have observed increased anxiety, agitation, uncontrolled restlessness and physical aggression. This clearly is NOT an environment which students can learn or teachers can teach. and my situation is NOT unique.

We have been told time and again that the electrical system cannot handle another AC unit. Where is the equity for all children in the school? I serve some of the most fragile students in the school and we are placed in the hottest room. So, I have a difficult time understanding why there are mini refrigerators and microwaves in most classrooms yet my classroom cannot have a AC unit.

Microwaves and refrigerators draw a lot of electricity. Until the district rectifies the situation, I have suggested all microwaves and refrigerators be removed except for those in the teacher’s lounge. I do not understand how microwaves in the classroom support essential instruction. Yet, thermal control, which is necessary to foster a learning environment, is ignored.

Instead, leadership has suggested we use multiple fans. We only have one outlet, so the fans are all hooked up to same extension cord creating a safety/fire hazard. Not only am I concerned about safety, but five blowing fans is very loud , inhibits instruction, and is especially troubling for students with Autism who are sensitive to sound.

My classroom is also listed as having damaged asbestos and lead paint residue. Most Students on the spectrum have a secondary medical diagnosis such as asthma and seizures and can be sickened by this toxic environment.
Can you help our school do an electrical audit to see how capacity can be made for much-needed climate control for students with special needs. Can you provide us with the full report that shows what was done to rectify the asbestos and lead in our special ed classroom? Please help us to live and learn in normal, healthy environments.

I am Tasaday Messina member of the PFT and caucus of working educators.