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How hot is too hot for classrooms in Massachusetts? Some want regulations

How hot is too hot for classrooms in Massachusetts? Some call for regulations
How hot is too hot for classrooms in Massachusetts? Some call for regulations 02:38

WORCESTER - There was an ice cream truck parked across from Rice Square School in Worcester this week as students left early Thursday and Friday because of the extreme heat. "Picking up my kids yesterday their faces were flushed and sweaty," said Elizabeth Toscano. 

How hot is too hot? WBZ-TV went on the hunt for answers. The first stop was Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "Some students can tolerate higher temperature, but others can't," said assistant professor Shichao Liu, who's been researching the question. 

He heated up a small room to 80 degrees, and outfitted students with a futuristic cap measuring electrical signals in the brain. He monitors the activity in conjunction with tiny thermometers taped to different spots on the students' skin. He has found that as the temperature rises, so do their heart rates, and oxygen flow to the brain drops. 

"If the temperature rises to 80 degrees...their reasoning performance can be dropped by 11%," said Liu. "And for memory, could be about 3%." 

WPI brain heat study
A Worcester Polytechnic student participates in a study monitoring brain signals as the room temperature rises.  CBS Boston

To monitor cognitive effects, he gives the students reading material and a quiz. "Seventy-eight [degrees] is roughly a higher level, and you should be careful if the temperature rises above 80," he said. 

One Massachusetts teacher sent WBZ a video showing a classroom at 91 degrees with no air conditioning, and just a fan. WBZ checked with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and found out there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to hot classrooms. 

Classroom temperature
A Massachusetts teacher sent WBZ a video of a the temperature of her classroom on September 7, 2023.  CBS Boston

Special education programs must be between 68 and 80 degrees, but according to DESE, that "does not apply to public schools in general." 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing for laws to limit how hot classrooms can be. MTA Vice President Deb McCarthy was a teacher for 25 years. "Once the classroom gets above 78 degrees, I would witness not only the students, but educators get lethargic," McCarthy said. "I would see respiratory concerns, students who would get physically ill." 

"The state has legislation that protects our beloved pets in extreme heat," she said. "It's time to have the same protective measures in place for our students in classrooms." 

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