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Duval County parents say students still dealing with hot classrooms

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Parents of students at two Duval County schools say their children are still dealing with hot classrooms and that some don't have proper air conditioning.

The claims come as both the Duval County School Board and a group of parents are separately suing the city of Jacksonville over the City Council withdrawing a motion to put a half-cent sales tax referendum on a ballot. Duval County Public Schools intends to use the revenue from the tax to replace and repair aging schools.

Fort Caroline Middle School had a building-wide A/C outage Tuesday, according to school spokeswoman Sonya-Duke Bolden (full statement below). Duval County Public Schools said the issue was repaired quickly and the air conditioning is working.

Al Ortiz, the parent of a student, said he’s concerned about ongoing A/C issues. 

“If a kid’s in a classroom that is extremely hot, they are not going to be able to do well in school,” Ortiz said.

In September, Mayor Lenny Curry asked teachers on Twitter to direct message him any public school maintenance concerns after a teacher replied to his tweet with a picture of her broken air-conditioning unit.

Curry wrote, “Share your school, your classroom and your need […] If your management can’t fix basic needs like air conditioning, we will.”

“I just thought that was a snarky way to play politics with this instead of being a unified team as the city of Jacksonville. We should want better for our schools and for our community,” said Tanya Hardaker, the parent of a student at Fishweir Elementary School.

Hardaker, a mother of seven public school students, said she wrote about her the air conditioning being broken in her student's classroom.

“Our school is over 100 years old, so, there are a lot of upgrades that need to be made in the building. Specifically, in that email, I let him know about the A/C issues in my son's third grade classroom since the beginning of school,” said Hardaker. “It’s 100 degrees. My car says it’s 106. My son is in third grade. He’s sweating. The teacher has asked parents to bring fans. It’s hard for the kids to concentrate when it’s so hot in August and September.”

Earlier in the school year, the News4Jax I-TEAM obtained maintenance logs that show 284 work orders were put in for broken air conditioning units in Duval County schools days before students went back to class. Two days into the first week of school, the school superintendent told the I-TEAM that the school district had addressed more than half of the A/C issues.

Hardaker says it’s not just the A/C. She said there are more maintenance issues happening at her kid's school.

“There are tons of issues here. Little patches here and there are not fixing the problem,” Hardaker said. “These issues effect all of us, all of the voters, that (there) are school buildings are not up to code. We have roofs falling in. It’s a safety issue and it also impacts children’s learning environment.”

Deferred maintenance reports show both schools are slated for HVAC repairs in the district’s plan for revenue from the half-cent sales tax.

A statement from Duval County Public Schools reads:

The AC unit at Fort Caroline Middle School is in working order.  Yesterday morning, the school did experience a system outage that lasted for two hours of the school day.  Our maintenance staff responded and resolved the issue.

Teachers and staff responded to the temporary outage by leaving classroom doors open to allow cool air to come in and placing fans in the classrooms, hallways, and cafeteria areas of the building.

As an FYI, the issues experienced at Fort Caroline Middle are a factor in the FCI score assigned to the school.  The Master Facility Plan allocates $8.7 million dollars to the school for safety and security, renovations, and system upgrades so that these types of issues can be minimized. 

As we previously shared, the issue is that many of these systems are well past their useful life and should be fully replaced, not repaired.

Until a permanent solution is reached to address the current maintenance backlog, the district will continue to experience intermittent AC unit issues and you will likely continue to receive reports about these issues.

That is why our School Board’s proposal for a half-penny sales tax referendum is so important to the future of our schools.  

In the meantime, we have an innovative and hardworking maintenance team that has proven to be very skilled at putting maintenance band aids on outdated systems.


About the Author:

Kelly Wiley

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.