CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – School resumed Friday morning for students at Oakleaf Village Elementary after Thursday's classes were canceled due to an air conditioning issue.
In a robocall to parents on Wednesday, Superintendent Addison Davis said the decision was made to close the school Thursday because only one of the chillers, which provides air conditioning to the main building, was still fully functional as of Wednesday night and the temperatures were forecast to be in the mid-90s with a heat index above 100.
Davis said the chiller went down after a power outage occurred about 7 a.m. Wednesday at the school. He said Clay Electric and school district engineers restored power about 9:40 a.m. Wednesday and at that time, both chillers were working and school resumed as normal. But at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, according to the superintendent, one of the chillers went down again, causing uncomfortable conditions in many classrooms.
"We heard as parents that other students and faculty had also gotten sick due to the heat in the rooms," Courtney Hollinger -- the mother of two children, ages 6 and 9, who attend the school -- told News4Jax.
Davis said crews repaired the issues and the chiller was working again Thursday. The school was a comfortable 70 degrees.
Davis acknowledged there was a gap in alerting parents that the chillers had malfunctioned a second time Wednesday.
A parent confronted him about the issue, saying if she'd known her daughter, who suffers from a medical condition, was sitting in the heat, she would have picked her up from school sooner. She said her child's health was put in danger by the lack of A/C.
"My daughter has oxidation disorder, she has the SCAD version, which after long heat exposure, can cause hypoglycemia disorder. Her blood sugar was 40 when she got home yesterday," April McLelland said.
Minutes before their tense exchange at the school, Davis acknowledged the communication error but broke down a timeline to reporters.
He said the district notified parents around 9:43 a.m. that the A/C was back working. From there, Davis said, the district learned around 1:15 p.m. that the chiller was back down. He said another message was crafted and sent to out school leaders around 2:26 p.m.
"Unfortunately, this communication was not sent out. We will address in our post-event review to make sure we are getting back at our communication all around as an organization," Davis said. "I had a chance to meet with teachers and staff this morning to get some of their feedback to talk about what worked, what didn't work and what we can do differently. We will take some of that information and go back to our teams and really come collectively to identify how we can get better at communications."
McLelland pointed to comments circulating on social media, saying the district advised school employees not to talk to parents about the problem. Davis sharply denied that.
"Please know that at no time did district staff or my staff or myself ever communicate with school leadership or teachers and tell them not to over-communicate with our parents," Davis said.
An I-TEAM investigation revealed close to 300 work orders were placed for air conditioning issues in Duval County schools in the days before students went back to class. According to records, 41 schools still had outstanding work orders for HVAC issues as of Sunday night.
Below is the entire message sent to parents of Oakleaf Village Elementary students:
"This is Superintendent Addison Davis with an important update regarding Oakleaf Village Elementary School. At this time, one of the chillers, which provides air conditioning to the main building, is still not fully functional. Due to the current forecast for temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index above 100, school will be cancelled tomorrow, Thursday, August 15th. Know that our team has been working diligently to restore all chillers to ensure a comfortable educational environment for students and employees.
"As you know, the power went out this morning around 7:00 a.m. Clay Electric, along with our team of engineers, were able to get power restored at 9:40 a.m. At that time, both chillers were fully functional and the school resumed normal operations. At 12:45 p.m., one of the chillers went down again causing the uncomfortable conditions in many of the classrooms and common areas. While other parts of the school maintained air conditioning the rest of the day, it was not at full capacity.
"I understand that students and staff experienced uncomfortable conditions during school today due to the two unexpected outages that occurred. Thank you for your patience and understanding as crews continue to work to get the school back to normal.
"I'd like to address misinformation that I understand is circulating in our communities on social media platforms and word of mouth. As is often the case, that information is usually incorrect, grossly blown out of proportion, and meant to fuel frustration for personal gain. Rest assured that at no time did District staff inform the school's leadership not to communicate with parents. Communication updates were provided at 9:43 a.m and 2:26 p.m. While we recognize that both transmissions were not released to the public, it is always our goal to be transparent with our community, and we will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and staff.
"Again, please make preparations as school will be closed tomorrow, Thursday, August 15th. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I truly do not believe it will be fair to students or staff to endure high temperatures if we cannot get the system stable by morning. I will update you tomorrow on the status of the conditions as crews work overnight to fix the chiller.
"Thank you for your flexibility and understanding. Have a blessed evening."