On Tuesday, during one of Southern California’s longest and most intense heat waves on record, Ali Payne’s daughter came home from school with welts on the back of her legs and her palms. She told her mother the marks were from sitting on the hot asphalt at school during PE.
The girl’s teacher at Arrowview Middle School in San Bernardino forced her and the rest of her classmates to sit on the ground while he took attendance and did not seem to care about the heat, Payne said.
Payne vented on Facebook, and soon parents from other schools in the district began sharing similar concerns.
“I was livid to find out that it’s been happening for a while to multiple kids and they get in trouble for not sitting down,” Payne told The Times.
The San Bernardino City Unified School District said the recent heat wave “called attention to an attendance practice that we will address.”
“We never want to put our students in unsafe conditions,” district spokesperson Maria Garcia said in a written statement.
The district is looking into the incident involving Payne’s daughter, Garcia said.
“Our first concern is to ensure this child is OK,” Garcia said. “The principal has met with the student’s mother to learn more about what happened so we can determine next steps.”
Payne’s story was featured in a news report on KTTV-Channel 11 earlier in the week and she commented during a district board meeting, but school officials did not immediately reach out to her to address the problem, according to the mother.
She said she’s not comfortable sending her daughter to PE class anymore and doesn’t understand why the school can’t seem to address this issue, but on Friday her daughter went to school.
“I’m disgusted at the way they’re handling it,” Payne said.
Several of Payne’s children have attended schools in San Bernardino City Unified, which enrolls about 46,000 students. Other parents told her their children also complained that if they didn’t sit down on the hot asphalt during attendance in PE class they would be marked late.
“What the teacher did was abuse, because not only did he make them sit there, but he mocks them,” Payne said.
Parents also complained on Facebook about strict bathroom policies and said students were sitting in classrooms with broken air conditioners. At Arrowview Middle School, Payne said, students are allowed to leave class to use the bathroom only once a month or five times during the entire semester.
According to the school district, some restrooms were briefly locked during passing periods to discourage “unsafe behavior,” and each school has written classroom expectations that limit bathroom passes during class but are not meant to deny children the use of the bathroom.
“This limitation is not a district or schoolwide policy. We do not condone preventing students from accessing restrooms,” Garcia said.
Other parents have told Payne that the teachers are not lenient with students who ask to go to the bathroom. Some students on their menstrual cycles have bled through their clothes, and other students rush to the bathroom at the end of the school day, according to Payne.
During the recent heat wave, students were told to make fans when the air conditioners in their classrooms did not work, Payne said.
The district said the heat wave stressed its air conditioners just as in other parts of the state.
“Our A/C systems were not exempt from that challenge and we know there have been pockets of uncomfortable conditions across the district,” Garcia said in a statement. “Student safety and comfort are always a top priority, and in extreme conditions like these we’ve added portable cooling units and taken steps to close schools, classrooms, and programs when necessary.”
Students should not have to worry about being burned on the hot ground or sweating in a hot classroom, Payne said.
“This is inhumane,” she said. “Send them home.”