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KCPS: Outdated infrastructure led some classrooms to reach over 80 degrees, prompting early dismissals

KCPS Superintendent
Posted at 5:49 PM, Aug 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-22 18:49:34-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, Dr. Jennifer Collier, addressed the district's decision to dismiss all schools early this week amid an excessive heat warning — with heat indices well over 100 degrees — and a nationwide bus shortage, which has affected the district, at a press conference Tuesday.

"These past few days have presented us with challenges that have compelled us to make many difficult decisions, as you all know, but these decisions were rooted in the commitment to the safety of our students and our staff," Collier said. "The heat index each day this week is forecasted over 110 degrees, and this has posed a risk of disruption to our learning environment.

"Unfortunately, here in KCPS, not all of our classrooms are equipped with central air conditioning, and in those cases, we utilize window units. Even in the classrooms that do have cooling systems, the extraordinary heat places immense strain on those systems in the facilities."

When asked why the district didn't make a dismissal decision before the school week began, Collier said the number of bodies inside buildings made classrooms unexpectedly hot, calling the district's move a "proactive approach and a necessary choice."

Collier walked through the buildings on Monday and Tuesday and said she felt she would not want her own child in any district building, where some classrooms reached temperatures in the 80s.

She said previous school years have also seen high temperatures, but the district was able to adjust.

"Right now, we’re talking about extreme heat," she said.

The superintendent said the district's buildings have "deep, historical roots," so updating them "comes with significant financial burdens." She also noted the absence of funding from the city has resulted in outdated infrastructure; thus, the early dismissals are the "manifestations of those issues."

A bond has not been passed in over 50 years for KCPS buildings, and there has been over $400 million worth of deferred maintenance, according to Collier. The district has to now work within the constraints of its current infrastructure.

Collier also addressed the bus shortage facing KCPS. She said 7,000 KCPS students rely on bus transportation every day, and the district's third-party vendor, Student Transportation of America, is working to make sure those students can get to and from school.

Moving forward, Collier said she expects the district to optimize bus routes and provide "more efficient service."

KCPS is allowing parents to opt their child out of bus services if they do not need it, which would help students who rely on district transportation to receive bus services.