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Environment and Outdoors

Maine Heat Wave Forces Several Public Schools To Send Students Home

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images

New England is getting a hot blast of summer a little earlier than usual. Temperatures rose into the mid-90s as far north as Maine, where thousands of schoolchildren were sent home to try to stay cool.

At least nine public school districts in Maine either went to all-remote learning for the day, or sent students home to continue online instruction before the worst heat hit.

Kathy Harris-Smedberg is interim schools superintendent in Bangor. Only one of the district's classroom buildings has air conditioning, so when temperatures and humidity started rising Sunday, she visited several to make an assessment.

"When I'm in a classroom and I'm sweating and there are no other students, what would it be like if you added a classroom full of students and staff?" Harris-Smedberg says.

The superintendent says that in other years, when heat has become a concern, the district deployed fans to make classrooms bearable. But that goes against today's pandemic-era protocols. So, she decided to take advantage of another pandemic-driven trend, and declared Monday a remote-learning day.

"It would just provide a level of safety that maybe we haven't always thought of before," Harris-Smedberg says. "Obviously I'd prefer to have students in person. But I felt this was one of those unusual circumstances that this year seems to have brought."

But some adults took the day to play. On windy Bayview beach in Saco, Jane and Justin Cooper weren't avoiding the heat, they were reveling in it.

"I don't think we have enough of these days each summer. Before you know it, it's over, where the nights are getting cooler. So I'll take it," Jane Cooper says.

"It's what we live for, right? So, there's like two weeks in July and the rest is winter. So embrace it's while it's here: it's pretty short-lived," Justin Cooper says.

The National Weather Service says Portland temperatures rose above 90 degrees but did not hit the June 7th record of 95 degrees.

"Today's probably the peak," says William Watson, a meteorologist at the service's office in Gray. He predicts that Tuesday, when some school officials are hoping students can return to classrooms, temperatures will be only slightly lower.

"But also bringing in some additional clouds, maybe even some showers and thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon," Watson says. "It will still be hot, because it will still be rather warm aloft and take a while for that air mass to work it's way out of here."

And the weather service also predicts that in New England, the entire summer is likely to see warmer than usual average temperatures.