Some students who are learning in some portable classrooms in Surrey’s schools did so bundled up in winter jackets and gloves last week, thanks to a delay in the installation of heating that made the recent spell of icy weather difficult to escape.
After the district faced criticism during the summer months for portable classrooms being too hot and lacking air conditioning, students and staff now are facing the opposite problem. With late October bringing a few straight days of freezing weather, some students found themselves in classrooms that did not have heat.
According to reports received by the Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA), there were 35 schools with portables without heat two weeks ago. As of Monday (Oct. 30), there were still 15 on that list.
“Whenever there’s a temperature that’s too hot or too cold in a classroom, kids don’t respond well to that, they become dysregulated,” said Lizanne Foster, first vice president of the STA.
More than a dozen individuals reported to the STA’s health and safety department that the lack of heat in portables was creating issues in the learning environment.
“Teachers were frustrated because they had said in September that the heat needed to be hooked up. It was not working and (the district) is aware of it. They had to continually ask for them,” said Manjit Dulla, the union’s health and safety officer.
In an emailed statement, district spokesperson Ritinder Matthew explained that the delay was due to the large number of portables that had to be shifted to different school sites over the summer. With the “record number of portable moves,” the propane tanks have not yet been installed in all of the new portables, the district email noted.
But that’s not a good enough reason, according to the STA.
“Why is it not a urgent priority to make sure kids have optimal learning environments? This is a basic need,” Foster charged.
“We have kids freezing in classrooms… They could anticipate that this was going to happen. Everyone knows that the temperature drops in October, everyone knows that it wasn’t hooked up, everyone could anticipate that students would be cold.”
Matthew apologized for the situation and said they are working to address it as soon as possible. The portables now have space heaters, which will be used until the propane tanks arrive.
“These heaters can help maintain a comfortable temperature while we await the arrival of the necessary propane tanks and installation. Additionally, our staff are conducting regular checks throughout the day to ensure that the temperature remains suitable for our students and staff,” the statement from Matthew went on to say.
If the portables remain too cold, the classes will be moved into common areas of the main school buildings, such as libraries. So far, this has not been necessary.
“They should have had the propane tanks in and working in the portables. It shouldn’t be November 1 and we still don’t have heat,” Dulla said.
“The whole purpose of WorkSafe is to have preventative measures so that health and safety regulations are not violated, but there are no preventative measures put in place. It’s a reaction to when health and safety guidelines are violated and the union gets involved.
“It’s supposed to be preventative so everyone is safe and healthy and that’s not what is happening.”