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As NYC Schools Keep Windows Open For Ventilation, Chilly Weather Offers Preview Of Frigid Months Ahead

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Mayor Bill de Blasio checks the movement of a window inside a classroom at Bronx Collaborative High School in August. Bebeto Matthews/AP/Shutterstock

After this week’s streak of chilly, rainy weather, New York City public school teachers said they were getting a preview of how winter might unfold with classroom windows open for ventilation as temperatures drop.

Chris Taylor, a high school teacher in Queens, said he realized this week he had to bring an umbrella to his classroom to make sure his computer was protected from rain.

“Our only ventilation is windows so we need them open,” he tweeted. “On stormy days, I open an umbrella and tuck it into my chair behind me when the rain comes in the window to keep my computer safe.”

One teacher told Gothamist that his class had to keep moving to stay warm on Friday, tossing a ball from desk to desk during lunch. The teacher, who did not give his name because he’s not authorized to speak to the media, said that usually the heat is blasting in his classroom. This year, he’s ordering affordable fleece blankets for the kids in his class -- an echo of outdoor classes during the tuberculosis outbreaks of the early 1900s, when students were wrapped in thick blankets to form so-called "sitting-out bags" to keep them warm.

The city Department of Education has touted the safety of school buildings during the pandemic because of ventilation improvements, as recommended by public health experts. The conditions of the city’s school buildings — some windowless, some with basement classrooms — became a flashpoint for the United Federation of Teachers union, which demanded upgraded ventilation in schools before they agreed to a plan to reopen schools for in-person learning in September. In some cases, School Ventilation Action Teams approved classrooms for use so long as windows can reopen.

Still, the open windows brought in cold temperatures this week, some teachers reported -- they and their students were wearing their jackets and scarves, and kids sat next to heaters:

Another teacher found warmth in wearing a Halloween costume Friday:

“Every student and staff member deserves a comfortable and safe learning environment. If temperature is a concern, educators should immediately contact their custodial engineer and they will work to raise the classroom temperature. This is a time of transition and open communication will help us quickly fix any problems that arise,” said Department of Education spokesperson Nathaniel Styer in an email statement.

The DOE said the schools that have open windows are supposed to have heating systems that account for that outside air temperature. Styer added that the school’s custodial engineers will be able to adjust boiler settings and pre-heat classrooms before students and teachers come into the building.

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