From extreme heat and humidity to freezing temperatures to mold that makes children and teachers sick, Connecticut schools are in dire need of improved indoor air quality, and a bill before the legislature would address that.
During a public hearing before the legislature’s Labor Committee yesterday, CEA President Kate Dias spoke up on behalf of not just CEA members, but an entire coalition of organizations who have come together to advocate for improving air quality in schools.
“It’s exciting to see so many people get on board—parents, educators, labor unions, contractors, trade workers, public employees, environmental groups, healthcare workers,” Dias said. “We’re all coming together around what we recognize to be an imperative need to address indoor air quality in schools.”
S.B. 423, An Act Improving Indoor Air Quality in Public School Classrooms, seeks to establish school temperature and humidity limits and provide bond funding for remediation and installation of modern HVAC systems. By June 30, 2026, schools would be required to maintain indoor temperatures between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (the same temperature range that OSHA recommends for office buildings) and relative humidity levels between 20 to 60 percent.
“The bill also provides an equitable way to fund the air handling upgrades—in the same way we reimburse cities and towns for fixing a leaky school roof—through school construction bond funds,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “The idea that fixing a leaky roof is eligible for reimbursement but fixing an air handling system is not, does not make sense. This change is long overdue and would allow all towns to fix their air quality problems.”
How extreme temperatures and mold affect teaching and learning
A number of teachers submitted testimony, sharing with legislators how extreme temperatures and poor air quality negatively impact their students.
“In the very warm days of May and June as well as late August into October my classroom becomes unbearable,” wrote Shelton teacher Kristen Cannon, explaining that temperatures in her classroom often exceed 90 degrees. “I often have to stop teaching to catch my breath and regain my train of thought since I am so distracted by the heat. If it is difficult for me to focus on teaching and ignore the heat, imagine what it does for my 20 plus students. The students are exhausted and distracted and often complain of headaches and not feeling well due to the lack of airflow.”
Stamford teacher Tara Karlson shared with legislators that conditions in her classroom are wildly variable.
“We have come into class to a 40 degree room and a 110 degree room,” she wrote. “On those days, we must relocate. The room is not safe. The humidity, once the heat is on, varies between 12 and 17 percent. With personally purchased and maintained humidifiers and five large fish tanks, I can sometimes keep humidity around 15 percent. Once the heat is turned off, the humidity levels change. The humidity increases rapidly and tends to be between 60 and 75 percent. I have even come into the classroom to a condensation flood. The walls were dripping and there was standing water on all surfaces, including desks and chairs.”
“There are laws against leaving kids and pets in hot cars… why is there no law on how hot we can be within a classroom setting?” asked Southington teacher Michelle Daigle. Explaining that her classroom regularly exceeds 80 degrees, while the rooms on her school’s second floor can climb above 90, she added, “No one can teach in those elements and students cannot learn. Have you ever been in a classroom at 2:30 in the afternoon on a 90 degree day? Kids and teachers alike feel sick in those conditions, and it needs to be fixed! I have kids with asthma, coughs, congestion, allergies, and other health impairments. The fact that we are sweltering all day without AC increases these issues.”
Matthew Tiscia is one of many Stamford teachers to have been sickened due to a serious mold problem in school buildings. “I had to miss a whole school year because of a mold issue. Mold has been an issue at our school, but I never thought anything of it until I got sick. I started having anxiety attacks, low mood and digestive disorders, and couldn’t figure out why. It took lots of money from tests and different doctors to finally figure out that I had mold toxicity.”
“My allergies start the moment I walk into the building and end the moment I walk out,” wrote Thompson educator Louise Morrison. “Over the years, my room has flooded several times from roof issues. Mold grows behind the ceiling tiles, there are huge brown spots on the ceiling. Instead of addressing the mold, new ceiling tiles are put up, so no one can see where the issues are.”
Dias knows firsthand what teaching in inhospitable conditions is like.
“I work as a high school math teacher in a building that was built in the 50s. My classroom is on the second floor of an unairconditioned building overlooking a black tar roof that radiates heat directly into my classroom,” she told legislators. Teaching during the pandemic, she was required to keep windows open, even on the coldest days when snow would blow in on her students.
“The absence of standards in statute means we are allowing these things to happen,” Dias said. “We are allowing windows to be kept open in winter. We are allowing kids to sit in 95 degree classrooms. If we don’t come out of this session with standards, we will not have changed a single thing. The additional $90 million from the governor, the bond allowances, those are all really important, but the last two years have proven to us that money doesn’t solve this problem. We have had money in abundance, but we have not spent it on this issue because we don’t have to—it hasn’t been a priority. It’s not that districts don’t care, but absent standards, it doesn’t make the list. It’s not a priority.”
Labor Committee Co-Chair Representative Robyn Porter told Dias, “This bill says you matter, the faculty matter, the children matter, education matters. How do you learn when you’re freezing cold? How do you learn when you’re overheating?”
Dias agreed. “This is more than just an indoor air quality bill. It’s a bill that says we as a state care, it’s a bill that says we’re invested, and it’s a bill that says our public schools are great places to grow and to work.”