BELFAST, Maine — Temperatures reached more than 100 degrees inside some classrooms in Maine during the fifth day of a heat wave that sent more school-children home early Thursday.
Students in the Rockland area didn’t go to school at all Thursday, as officials made the decision Wednesday evening to cancel the next day’s classes.
“In 38 years in education as a teacher or an administrator, I can never recall a time that schools were shut down because of heat,” said Superintendent Peter Edgecomb of SAD 29 in Houlton, where classes were dismissed shortly after noon Thursday. “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to tell the children that they’ll tell their children and grandchildren about this.”
Temperatures across Maine reached into the 90s for the fifth straight day as the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for much of the state. The advisory warned that the high heat and duration of the heat wave were making for uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions, especially in buildings without air conditioning or proper ventilation.
As of midafternoon Thursday, the hot spots for the day were Waltham and Baileyville in eastern Maine, both of which reached 96 degrees.
Bangor topped out at 94 degrees with a heat index of 97 degrees.
Portland hit 93 degrees with a heat index of 95 degrees.
Temperatures are expected to cool down Friday with highs reaching from the mid-70s to mid-80s as Hurricane Earl approaches the region from the south.
But on Thursday, the temperature in a second-floor classroom at Belfast Area High School reached 104 degrees.
The second graders at Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast tried to keep cool by spending story time in a darkened classroom Thursday morning before they were sent home early for the second day in a row.
“I think every room I’ve been to today has the lights out,” said teacher Terry Newton.
Tyler Kirkpatrick, 9, of Belfast looked a little droopy as he ate his lunch in the cafeteria, where the ambient temperature was high enough to make anyone perspire.
“It makes it hard to learn,” he said of the heat.
Edgecomb in Houlton said Thursday that he has already decided his students will be sent home at 11:30 a.m. Friday after an early lunch because of concerns that the air quality will be even worse. He said temperatures inside Wellington Elementary School in Monticello already were in the upper 80s first thing in the morning.
“For children with underlying health conditions, that’s dangerous,” he said.
He and other school administrators said they paid attention to the heat and air quality health alert sent Wednesday evening by Department of Education Commissioner Angela Faherty and Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The alert advised “extreme caution” regarding school activities and high heat.
“Maine is expected to see high heat, increasing humidity and some of the worst air quality we have seen in several years over the next several days,” the alert stated. “Heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather-related event, and New England has some of the highest mortality rates associated with heat events.”
The alert suggested keeping children and others with underlying physical conditions such as obesity and asthma in an air-conditioned space, and encouraged schools to consider closing based on the heat index inside the building.
But some districts, such as Five Town CSD in Camden, which had sent students home early on Wednesday, held classes all day Thursday after making a concerted effort to ventilate buildings.
At least a couple of schools tried other innovative ways to keep students cool.
The Parent-Teacher Group at the Captain Albert Stevens School bought Popsicles on Thursday for all 290 students, said principal Susan Inman.
Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee said students and staff throughout that school district also were treated to Popsicles.
While many schools around the state were not dismissed early, sports matches were rescheduled because of the steamy weather.
In Bangor, a freshman football game and practice, and a golf match scheduled for Thursday were called off, according to the school department’s online calendar.
Brewer High School rescheduled a Thursday golf match for Friday, according to Athletic Director Dennis Kiah, and field hockey and girls’ soccer matches scheduled for Saturday were moved up to Friday for another weather-related reason — Hurricane Earl.
Bruce Mailloux, superintendent of RSU 20 in the Belfast area, said the extended nature of the heat wave has made it tough on students and teachers alike.
“When it’s a one-day deal, you get through it,” he said. “When it goes on for two or three days, everybody gets worn down and the buildings don’t cool down at night.”
While none of his district’s schools have air conditioning throughout, some of the newer buildings have better ventilation, he said. That’s not the case in places like the Waymouth School in Morrill.
“It’s a little bit of an older school, and they’re just baking,” Mailloux said. “They’re away from the ocean and they don’t get a lot of breeze. They’re really hot.”
Teachers have done a “nice job” managing with the heat, he said, by giving students extra time to hydrate and reducing their amount of physical activity. Sports practices have been cancelled or held later in the evening.
“All the same, people are ready for a break in the weather,” Mailloux said.
“I think we’re all looking forward to some serious breeze,” he said, quickly adding, “I’m not saying hurricane, though.”
Bangor Daily News writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.