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Keeping cool in school requires flexibility Carl Robinette | Sat, Jun 07 2014 12:00 PM

As San Diego County experienced record-breaking heat a few weeks ago, schools in South Bay are prepared for the possibility of soaring temperatures through the remainder of the school year.

The United States sees an average of 569 deaths every year due to heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but heat-related health emergencies are uncommon at South Bay schools, said officials with two of the local districts.

“Even with the recent heat wave last week we didn’t have any [student health] problems,” said Manny Rubio with Sweetwater Union High School District. “It can happen and it does happen from time to time, but that’s why all of our coaches and staff are trained to respond to those situations. It’s really about prevention.”
Sweetwater teachers and coaches are also CPR certified, he added.

The district takes its cues on heat preparedness from county agencies like Health and Human Services and the San Diego County Office of Education, said Rubio. When the county issues heat advisories as it did last week, the district responds accordingly, often restricting physical activities and athletics programs.

“It’s really different from district to district depending on the climate,” said Stacy Brandt with the San Diego County Office of Education. “It can vary from school to school, depending on if they have air conditioning or not. So it’s really a judgment call. When it comes to heat, air quality is affected. Humidity is a factor too, so it’s not just as simple as saying if we hit a certain temperature we stop all outdoor activities.”

Chula Vista Elementary School District issued an optional “rainy day schedule” to its schools during a recent heatwave, giving schools discretion to limit outdoor activity, said Anthony Millican, the district’s director of communications.

Schools on the east side of Chula Vista tend to experience higher temperatures than those closer to the bay, so a one-size-fits-all approach would not work, Millican added. Choosing a response to high temperatures often comes down to a case-by-case decision, he said.

High school athletes are at greater risk of health emergencies due to heat exposure, according to the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association, with two out of three players showing up to practices already significantly dehydrated. 

“Serious health problems can result from exposure to high temperatures, even if exposed for short periods,” said Wilma Wooten, a physician with county public health in a statement issued during last week’s heat wave. “Working or doing any type of physical activity outside on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun, or staying too long in an overheated place can lead to heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, exhaustion and cramps.”

Student health is a top priority for the district, said Rubio, but energy efficiency is also very important.Creating a healthy learning environment without undermining the district’s green energy policies by over using air conditioning is the challenge.

For elementary schools, the challenge on hot days is finding ways to keep students active and learning when playtime is limited to indoors, said Millican. 

“Couped up all day indoors is not a fun day for students,” he said.

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