EducationNews & Opinion

CMS Parents, Teachers Complain of Broken HVAC Units as School Starts

A sign in front of East Mecklenburg High School with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools logo and the school buildings in the background
East Mecklenburg High School was one of a handful of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools facilities where parents and teachers have reported broken HVAC units. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

A post from Ashley Arnold, parent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) students, revealed on Tuesday that the air conditioning at North Academy of World Languages’ (NAWL) was down as temperatures neared 90 degrees during the first days of school. 

“This is UNSAFE, especially on multiple floor buildings where HEAT RISES!” the post said, tagging the CMS Facebook account. “You’ve had MONTHS to prepare!! It’s an issue every. single. Year.”

Arnold’s post kicked off a conversation in which a number of CMS parents, teachers and community members relayed their experiences with faulty HVAC systems in CMS schools.

One former CMS parent commented under Arnold’s post: “That’s absolutely unacceptable. This heat mixed with potential underlying conditions for some students is asking for nothing but trouble.”

According to Arnold, teachers at NAWL had already reported high temperatures before the start of the 2023 school year. During the open house last week, Arnold said she could barely last seven minutes before leaving the school because of how stuffy it was.

In a message to parents, NAWL’s principal Lydia Fergison said, “CMS is working hard to repair a malfunction with our HVAC system.” Fergison requested parents donate box fans to their or other children’s classrooms to counteract the heat.

Arnold is aiding in the collection and distribution of box fans for her children’s seventh and second grade classrooms. “It’s not okay that I have to rally the community to make sure our kids aren’t overheating,” she told Queen City Nerve. 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools responded to a request for comment with the following statement: “Some schools have had isolated incidents without adequate AC. Building Services is working to repair any failing AC systems.”

CMS did not comment on a timeline for a fix. The district did replace HVAC units in mobile classrooms at 18 schools near the beginning of the 2022-’23 school year, an effort that took an estimated six weeks after a bid was approved for $104,066.86, according to WBTV.

In a separate Facebook post, one CMS teacher wrote, “Every single school has some kind of issue, we have a building without air and it won’t be fixed for two years … Just here to say, they don’t care about what the staff has to say. Parents are going to have to raise hell.”

Arnold, however, does belong to a Facebook group of hell-raisers: a private Facebook group called CMS Advocacy for Public Schools (CAPS). One member of the group made a post Friday asking fellow parents and teachers if they had experienced A/C issues similar to hers. From that post and other local mom groups, Arnold compiled a list. 

As of the publishing of this story, there have been unconfirmed reports of broken or inadequate HVAC systems at North Mecklenburg, Ardrey Kell, East Meck and South Meck high schools; Crestdale and Carmel middle schools; and Barnette, Huntersville and Devonshire elementary schools.

Brian Kasher, a candidate for CMS Board of Education (BOE) who in the past worked as the district’s manager of environmental health and safety, said the district’s Building Services department is in charge of maintaining the HVAC equipment in schools. The board has hardly any control over whether or not the systems are fixed, he told parents who were tagging BOE members, as they can only connect people to Building Services to put in work orders.

“The problem happens when the work orders are closed with no repairs taking place to manipulate service record numbers,” Kasher said. “This system of increasing work numbers [while] doing less work was rolled out by executives who live by spreadsheets, who have excellent AC themselves!”

Learn more: Mecklenburg County Election Guide 2023

A member of CAPS commented about her school’s broken A/C and printers, which she said made for a stressful last day before students arrived. 

“I wish voters understood that short-changing education is not just resulting in a teacher shortage,” she said. “Every facet of our children’s experiences are impacted by lack of funding: transportation, building services, custodial services and, of course, teachers.”

Arnold said a number of teachers have reached out to thank her for standing against CMS because they are too afraid to question the A/C issue. “In order to get traction it has to be parents [who speak up] because nobody listens to teachers.”

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