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Temperatures inside many schools hovered around 40 degrees. That's because a lot of these schools are in bad shape. They've got ceilings that are falling in, some pipes that are bursting. Mary Rose Madden from member station WYPR reports that parents, teachers and students are angry, they are confused, and they are cold.
MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: Nikki Massie's 16-year-old daughter goes to one of Maryland's crown jewels, Baltimore City College High School. Built in 1839 with Gothic architecture, it looks like a castle. And it had very little heat this week. Massie says she was at work on Tuesday and started getting texts from her daughter. The first one said it was really cold inside the school.
NIKKI MASSIE: And progressively, her texts got a little bit more desperate sounding, with the last one saying that she couldn't feel her feet at one point. And I texted her back, and I said, are you joking? And she says no.
MADDEN: Massie says her daughter has been cold at school before. It's an old, drafty building. But this - this was different.
MASSIE: She wrapped herself in a blanket as soon as she got home. And she stayed that way. And she actually sat on our sofa right next to the heating vent literally until it was time for her to go to bed at like about 10 o'clock.
MADDEN: That night, parents in the district heard from administrators for the first time. The email said they were working on the problems. The next morning, Massie's daughter felt sick. And there was a crucial question Massie needed answered - would there be heat in her daughter's school that day? She had a tough decision to make. City, as the school is known, is academically rigorous, and the workload is intense.
MASSIE: Do you keep your kids home and risk them falling behind versus sending them into an environment that - you know, I wouldn't put my worst enemy in a building that was unheated in this weather.
MADDEN: Sixty schools out of the 180 were open but without fully functioning heat this week. At Frederick Douglass High School, a burst pipe and fallen ceiling tiles destroyed numerous MacBooks and technology equipment for teaching kids to become EMTs. Dennis Morgan is a senior and says he's freezing.
DENNIS MORGAN: As of now, I have on like four shirts, two hoodies and a jacket - right? - and it's kind of hard to get comfortable when you got so many layers on. And you're not used to it, and you're still cold.
MADDEN: He says teachers are sharing their scarves with students.
MORGAN: We have teachers and our principal trying to help us. But Baltimore City Schools doesn't. They don't really listen to us.
MADDEN: Soon after we spoke, his high school was dismissed early. Yesterday, the Baltimore Teachers Union called on the district to close all the schools until the facility's crew could fully address the problems. City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises spoke to the public on Facebook Live. She said the operations teams worked through the holiday break, and they thought they were in good shape. But Monday night was another brutally cold evening, and that took its toll on the old infrastructure.
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SONJA SANTELISES: We had schools that were cold yesterday that were warmer today. The challenge was we had new schools today that were facing heating challenges.
MADDEN: The city is in the middle of building 26 new schools. But that will only help a fraction of the students, she said. The forecast looks like it's only getting colder. Santelises emphasized that, if needed, she will keep closing individual schools. Mom Nikki Massie says it makes it really hard to plan. However, she did get a robocall. It said student progress reports are in. But there was no progress report on the heat.
For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden.
(SOUNDBITE OF MICHITA'S "INNER MONOLOGUE (INSTRUMENTAL)")
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