DAVENPORT, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County’s teachers union filed a class action grievance against the district on Thursday alleging a lack of adequate air conditioning in schools.
On the eve of the first day of the 2023-2024 school year, the Polk Education Association (PEA) released a memo detailing ongoing AC issues with the school district.
“AC units in many of our schools are not working or not working to the capacity they should to be a suitable, conducive learning environment for our students,” the memo stated.
The PEA slammed the district’s alleged “ongoing lack of preparedness and inability” amid a summer of sweltering heat and record-setting temperatures. The district violated its contract with the union, according to PEA, which states their employer must “maintain heating and air conditioning equipment, where available, to provide a comfortable and healthy environment when school is in session except in emergency situations.”
“This is not the time for AC units to be broken with parts on back order and a district labor shortage of AC technicians,” PEA President Stephanie Yocum said in a statement. “Our District knew the looming issues with AC units and decided that the ‘wait and see’ approach would be better than being proactive in acquiring extra parts and securing labor to install and maintain these vital pieces of our teaching and learning environments.”
In a news conference Thursday, Yocum said that because so many classrooms are affected, there is nowhere else for students to go. She called the situation “unacceptable.”
The following Polk County schools are preparing to welcome students back to school while contending with “systemic AC issues,” according to PEA:
- North Lakeland Elementary School
- Rosabelle W. Blake Academy
- Lake Gibson Middle School
- Spessard L. Holland Elementary
- Socrum Elementary School
- Davenport School of the Arts
- Horizon Elementary School
- George W. Jenkins High School
- Sandhill Elementary School
- Alturus Elementary School
- Traviss Technical College
- Bartow Middle School
- Crystal Lake Middle School
- Boswell Elementary School
- Kathleen Elementary School
“Our working conditions are directly tied to our students’ learning conditions,” Yocum said. “If our district is truly putting students first, fixing these atrocious working and learning conditions to a ‘comfortable and healthy environment’ is a must!”
In response, Kyle Kennedy, a spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools, said a nationwide heat wave is putting pressure on Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) resources.
Kennedy said PCPS is taking the following steps to address the A/C issue:
- HVAC technicians and additional teams of maintenance staff are being deployed to schools to assess and prioritize work orders.
- All available portable A/C systems are being deployed from our inventory and will be used first in critical areas, such as portables and interior classrooms.
- We are authorizing overtime pay for staff to handle work orders, including on nights and weekends.
- PCPS-contracted vendors will be assisting with larger projects such as installing new A/C units and duct work.
- We are constantly working to upgrade the HVAC equipment in our schools. Approximately $6 million has been spent to purchase more than 500 new A/C units. Installation is taking place as soon as possible.
- Students in classrooms without working A/C will be relocated to other areas on campus until fixes are made.