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Glad you asked: What's with the heat closures at Grand Forks schools in early September?

Although outside temperatures on Sep. 6-8 were in the 80s, classroom temperatures measured by an infrared thermometer were approaching the 100-degree mark.

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Q: Why is it that Grand Forks closed some of its schools during the first weeks of the school year? I realize they said it was for heat, but why does it seem they do it more now than in the past? 

A: Early in the school year, the local district did cancel some classes due to heat over the course of some sweltering days in September.

Tracy Jentz, communications and community engagement coordinator for the school district, responded in an email, saying it has happened before, notably from Aug. 26-30, 2013.

She said Superintendent Terry Brenner makes the decision in consultation with the school system/school administrators. The decision is based on the expected heat index, temperatures in buildings that are not currently air conditioned and so forth.

She referred the Herald to Anthony Vandal, principal of Valley Middle School, who said that although outside temperatures on Sep. 6-8 were in the 80s, classroom temperatures measured by an infrared thermometer were approaching the 100-degree mark. The administrative offices at Valley are the only rooms with air conditioning, and Vandal said he didn’t want students and staff to have to deal with the heat while administrators sat in comfort.

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“We wanted our teachers to know we empathize with them,” said Vandal. “As temperatures got progressively hotter, administrators conducted walkthroughs of the school, in order to experience what students and faculty were feeling.”

Vandal said temporary fixes such as industrial grade fans were ineffective in lowering classroom temperatures. Additionally, Valley has two staff members with health conditions exacerbated by extreme heat.

Vandal says the events of early September were a learning experience, and the district is better equipped to handle future heat waves as a consequence.

“My number one priority is student and faculty safety,” said Vandal. “We have the tools in place to monitor the situation should it occur again, and we are also hopeful for improvements such as more widespread air conditioning.”

Glad You Asked is an occasional segment in the Grand Forks Herald. Do you have a locally interesting question you'd like answered? Submit it to  letters@gfherald.com  and we'll consider it. Be sure to put "Glad You Asked" in the subject line.

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