Jan 17, 2024 - News

SAISD schools close this week amid "systemwide failure" of heating systems

Illustration of an ice cube shaped like Texas.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

San Antonio Independent School District will close its more than 90 campuses Thursday and Friday to diagnose and address heating issues that kept the majority of its schools cold amid this week's freezing weather.

Why it matters: The district's infrastructure failure leaves students with multiple lost days of learning and parents scrambling for child care.

  • Repairs could end in a large bill for a district that has aging buildings and has already deferred maintenance due to lack of funding.

What they're saying: "We're not going to open a single school until it is warm, safe and a good place for learning," the district's superintendent, Jaime Aquino, said at a press conference Wednesday.

  • Aquino called the issues a "significant systemwide failure" and said he takes full responsibility.

Catch up fast: SAISD initially closed 20 schools Wednesday amid the heating problems, a list that eventually grew to 31 schools before the end of the school day.

Details: District officials checked campus heating systems on Monday, when students were off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and found them working.

  • But officials made "a human error" in not choosing to override the typical schedule and run the boilers 24/7 during the arctic weather, Aquino said.
  • That led to broken and frozen pipes that caused "major issues" in the infrastructure.
  • The broken pipes led officials to supply some schools with bottled water this week.

Zoom in: The district will work with the union representing teachers and other employees to decide if and when students will make up lost learning hours, Aquino said.

  • Officials considered remote instruction but decided against it for the closure period.
  • Curbside lunches will be available at all campuses from noon to 1pm on Thursday and Friday for families to pick up.

By the numbers: About 70% of SAISD's schools experienced some kind of heating problem as of Wednesday, Aquino said.

  • Districtwide attendance was just 54% on Tuesday and 70% on Wednesday.

Of note: Aquino did not answer questions about how much the repair work will cost or where the money will come from.

Flashback: The district recently repaired the heating and cooling systems in some schools through its 2020 bond. But this week's freezing weather was the first test of new HVAC systems, Aquino said.

  • That's because the district closed in prior cold snaps due to precipitation and ice. Officials had decided to keep schools open this week because of the lack of precipitation.

The big picture: "We are the oldest district in the city with an aging infrastructure, and we've had to defer maintenance because of our financial situation," Aquino said.

  • "The difficulties our schools face in ensuring appropriate temperatures for learning … are a direct result of the long-term, systemic and chronic underfunding of public education in our state," Alejandra Lopez, president of the union San Antonio Alliance, said.

What's next: Repair work over the coming days will also include checks of gas pressure or other problems that could have led to the failures.

  • "We will make sure this does not happen again," Aquino said.
  • Schools are expected to reopen on Monday.
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