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Back to school in a heat wave: Here’s how the TDSB plans to keep students cool

It may feel like the height of summer with the city under a heat warning, but it’s back to school for hundreds of thousands of students across the Greater Toronto Area on Tuesday. 

The return to classrooms comes amid a heat wave, with temperatures set to reach as high as 34 C over the next two days. 

Of the 583 schools that fall within the Toronto District School board (TDSB), 177 are “largely air conditioned,” according to the board’s website. Some 243 others have “cooling centres” in large areas like libraries or gyms that students can rotate through for heat breaks. The remaining schools have areas with temporary air conditioning units set up.

Despite the fact that only 30 per cent of Toronto’s schools have air conditioning, TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz says the board has “a lot of resources, a lot of ways to accommodate and beat the heat.” 

Apart from cooling stations, she’s advising teachers to keep fans running and doors open to boost air circulation. Otherwise, she recommends that teachers shut off computer screens and lights when possible. 

It will be up to individual schools to decide whether students should go outdoors during recess, Schwartz-Maltz says.

“In some cases where it’s more a concrete playground, [school officials] may think, ‘Today’s the day where we stay in and avoid strenuous exercise,'” she said. 

Heat warning in effect

Meanwhile, a heat warning remains in effect for Toronto. 

According to a statement issued by Environment Canada Tuesday morning, temperatures over the next two days could feel close to 40 C with humidex, which is “very atypical of early September.” 

A cold front is expected Thursday, bringing relief from the heat. 

Until then, the weather agency says vulnerable people, including young children, are at greater risk of heat illness. Environment Canada is advising people to drink water before you feel thirsty and stay in a cool place, when possible. 

The city also has a network of heat relief areas where people can escape the high temperatures. People can find a cool space near them through the city’s interactive map.

New this year, the city is also keeping 10 pools open into September. More information, including swimming pool schedules, is available on the city’s swimming and water play website

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