Jeramy Gulley’s school day Jan. 7 started a little differently with Prince George’s County Public Schools opening two hours later than normal.
But his day became even weirder once he got to class, he said.
“It was pretty cold,” said fourth-grader Jeramy, 10. “My teacher’s classroom was cold, but when we moved to the other classroom, it was warm.”
Temperatures dropped to as low as -11 degrees with the wind chill Jan. 7, but that didn’t stop Barack Obama Elementary School students from attending school — even though the building struggled to keep heat on most of the day. Parents have expressed frustration that they weren’t notified sooner that the school was having heating issues and question whether a process could be implemented that would allow them to decide whether to take their children out of school for the day.
Tim Gulley, Jeramy’s father, said he applauded the school for its efforts to keep children warm, but he would have pulled his son out of school if he had known early enough in the day about the problem.
“You want your kids to have as much instruction time as possible, but it was awfully cold,” Tim Gulley said.
The frigid weather resulted in schools opening two hours later that day, with classes at the Upper Marlboro school starting around 9:45 a.m. The heating problem wasn’t discovered until students started showing up, said Principal Pearl Harmon.
“The students were not in danger,” Harmon said. “We had a regular, normal day of learning.”
Students wore coats and participated in more physical activity to keep warm, Harmon said. While the school’s main hallway was cold with the doors opening and letting in cold air, Harmon said the lowest temperature she saw in a classroom was 64 degrees.
The school’s heating pumps were malfunctioning, turning off and on, only heating parts of the school building, said Max Pugh, Prince George’s County schools spokesman. When a heating issue is discovered, building supervisors are notified and they determine whether the problem can be fixed quickly or will require an extended period of time, Pugh said.
Harmon said building maintenance was called immediately, and the heater was fixed by the end of the day.
The heating problem at Obama was something the staff knew they could fix the same day, so the school wasn’t closed, Pugh said. The county central office decides whether to close a school or move students to a new location if extended maintenance or a risk to the students is possible, he said.
Sandra Collier, PTA president at the school, said she wishes there was a better system to notify parents about the broken heater.
Harmon said she notified as many parents as possible with a robo-call, an automated alert phone call that informs parents of issues at the school. However, if phone numbers have been changed, parents would not get the information, she said.
Collier said an effort like mobilizing staff to notify parents takes resources away from teaching the children.
“I wish the school would have said something,” Collier said. “But how do they do that?”