How Denton ISD is keeping student activities cool and safe amid record-breaking temps
North Texas got a short breather from a summer so blistering that people stayed home from the North Texas Fair and Rodeo.
Sure, temperatures last week were still eye-popping, with days reaching 98 degrees, but after weeks of peak temperatures over 105 degrees, local parks and neighborhoods saw people coming out of their homes and apartments — especially in the mornings and as the sun set.
But excessive heat warnings are back this week, with Thursday predicted to reach 106 and Friday getting up to 107 degrees. With those boiling temperatures expected, school officials are continuing practices to keep students and staffers safe.
Keeping buildings cool
If you’re paying a utility bill, this summer has likely been brutal. So what about a system like Denton ISD, which manages 5.8 million square feet of facilities that are categorized as “under roof,” said Reece Waddell, the district’s communications coordinator.
In spite of that sprawling amount of space to cool (and heat when North Texas is in the midst of historic freezes), the district’s maintenance and operations team has serviced just eight classrooms or learning spaces so far this school year.
“All of these issues were resolved immediately and did not result in any interruptions to learning,” Waddell said.
The maintenance team continually checks campus heating and cooling systems, especially since buildings are almost always occupied. People might envision dark schools locked and empty during the seven weeks of summer, but they aren’t.
“Operation costs associated with all district facilities are covered under the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget, which was approved and adopted in June,” Waddell said.
But the district has taken an intentional approach to its energy use. Every school built since 2010 — with the exception of Nette Shultz Elementary — has geothermal wells.
What’s a geothermal well? It’s a hole drilled into the earth under buildings that taps into the natural energy. Usually, geothermal wells pump water from the ground to capture heat from an air-conditioning unit or a heater. That water directs the heat into the well, where it is cooled again.
“Shultz Elementary has a variable refrigerant flow system, which is an equivalent to geothermal wells since there was not enough space for geothermal wells at Shultz,” Waddell said.
Union Park, Sandbrock Ranch, Cross Oaks and Shultz elementary schools all have solar panels on their campuses as well, which can generate cost savings for the community.
“Denton ISD does everything possible to conserve energy, including utilizing a control system that automatically raises every facility’s air conditioning to between 80-85 degrees at night. Many of our campuses also have daylighting features, which allow for natural light and automatically dim lights, saving energy, as well,” Waddell said.
Keeping students and staff cool (outside)
Denton ISD has joined other North Texas school districts in keeping students and staff safe while they are outside.
Fall means outdoor activities for elementary school students who need recess to burn energy and move their bodies. For middle and high school students and their teachers, fall means outdoor sports and band practice.
Campus leaders started the school year working around the heat. Recess and physical education classes have been bumped up to earlier in the day to take advantage of the cooler temperatures before noon. Some sports practices have been moved to the morning because triple-digit heat makes afterschool practice riskier.
Denton Fire Station No. 6 recently offered some relief to the Guyer High School Marching Band, parking a firetruck in the school parking lot during a Saturday band practice last month, hauling out the hose and dousing the musicians from a distance.
“Denton Fire Station No. 6 cooling off the Guyer High School band was a one-time special event,” Waddell said. “While Denton ISD is incredibly fortunate for our partnership with the Denton Fire Department, we recognize they do not have the bandwidth to do that on a regular basis.”
The district has also moved Friday’s football games to a later starting time, something Argyle ISD has done for the Friday game against Grapevine High School, moving the Eagle Stadium game to 8 p.m.
Speaking of water — hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (and remember your sunscreen)
Texans are somewhat heat-hardened, but with the stretches of triple-digit heat the state has seen over the summer, it doesn’t hurt to make like the 1990s Sprite slogan and obey your thirst. In fact, district officials don’t mind if students sip throughout the day.
But water is vital during recess, outdoor activities and dashing down the hall between classes in the blissful air conditioning.
“Students and staff are given as much water as necessary and as many breaks as needed,” Waddell said of outdoor activities. “Water bottle filling stations are available for both students and staff at numerous locations throughout each of our campuses.”
Advice for skin protection is in the district’s handbook for students and parents. Simply put, students who have regular outdoor activities on their schedule are advised to apply sunscreen at home before school. Teachers and staff can apply sunscreen to elementary school students if they ask and have their own sunscreen with them. High schoolers can bring and keep sunscreen with them and apply it whenever they need it. High school students who need help applying sunscreen are directed to coordinate with their school nurse. Parents of students who needs sunscreen for medical reasons are encouraged to coordinate with their campus nurse so school officials understand their medical and safety needs.
So far, the district has only had one heat-related incident this school year: A staffer became overheated during dismissal.
“This was resolved swiftly, and the staff member recovered without issue,” Waddell said.