Earlier this month, Southern Methodist University found many of its buildings without power. While a few classes were stopped early or did not meet, many students and faculty kept on keeping on through the SMU Power Outage.
On Wednesday September 6, 2017, SMU experienced a power outage in many classroom and office buildings, as well as some residence halls and the cafeteria. If you have children in public schools, you may be familiar with the concept that if power is lost to buildings where students are present, there is usually a procedure to protect the children from harm.
This procedure usually involves waiting a set amount of time, and if power is not restored, the children are sent home. The buses and other transportation will run early, and parents will be notified that their children must be picked up.
SMU Power Outage, No legal rulings….
Now, many people, parents included, assume that this procedure is set down by law. The truth is that it is actually each individual school board, district, or other administrative group that sets down these rules and regulations, pertaining to how much time the power must be out before they will consider sending the students home, or even if they will consider that at all. Often, this determination differs from one time of the year to another.
For instance, if there were a power outage during the late spring, around April or May, in the northern Midwest – say, around Illinois or Iowa – the students would likely not be sent home. This would be because the temperatures inside the classrooms and other buildings would not reach unbearably high or low extremes during this time of year in this geographic area at this time of year.
Let’s examine another example.
A rural school in Alaska. In December.
Of course the administration would send the students home – if the electrical grid were the only way they had to warm the buildings and classrooms. Honestly, most Alaskan rural schools probably have backup generators or wood-stoves that they could use in the event of an electrical outage, so class would probably continue on without a hitch. But if they did now, they recognize that the children would not be safe in an Alaskan winter without a source of heat.
One more example….
What about a school in the hot, humid South, during the tail-end of summer? If the school experienced a power outage, without a backup generator with enough power to sustain air conditioners – what would be the breaking point? What would be the determining factor, for whether the students should be sent home and school closed early?
How do we judge?
The temperature of the classrooms and buildings would be the simplest factor to assess. All it would take would be a couple of thermometers, battery powered digitals or traditional analogs would not make a difference, and observation of the students.
There is a general consensus that many people agree upon regarding appropriate temperature inside a room. Many would say the ideal “room temperature” during the day is 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit; but that range can go up to 80 degrees without too many ill effects for normal, healthy people.
In a brick or concrete school building, in the South, in summer, if the power goes out by 10 in the morning, the temperature begins climbing. A conservative estimate would be that every half an hour, the ambient temperature of interior rooms would rise 1 degree. This means that, if we started with an ambient temperature of 73 degrees, that by noon, that number would be pushing 77-78 degrees, and by the end of school, it would be closer to 85 degrees.
Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems that if we factor in that we have 30 people packed into a classroom without air conditioning, in those same hours from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., the temperature gain would probably be more like 3 to 4 degrees every hour. If we still started at 73 degrees when the power shut off, by noon… The temperature would already be over 80 degrees. By this point, students and teachers would begin to feel a lag in their mental acuity, and learning would decrease drastically.
So, in the South, if the power goes out during any of the myriad “hot times” of the year, two hours would probably be an excessive estimate of time to keep students on campus, waiting for the power to come back on.
So, SMU left it up to the teachers, it seems. Granted, this is a college; everyone of these people involved were more than likely adults.
But shouldn’t there be some kind of legal stricture to protect students, no matter their age, from the potential hazards of being expected to attend classes without adequate climate control?
You be the judge.