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Heat drives students from classrooms early in Pa., N.J.

With temperatures expected to hit the high 90s this afternoon, schools in Philadelphia and Camden sent students home early, as did many schools in the suburbs. The exceptions were a few schools in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey with air conditioning.

With temperatures expected to hit the high 90s this afternoon, schools in Philadelphia and Camden sent students home early, as did many schools in the suburbs. The exceptions were a few schools in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey with air conditioning.

Philadelphia public and parochial schools sent students home after lunch today and will do the same tomorrow, a district spokesman said. The last day for public school students is June 19.

All after-school programs for the public schools - student sports and professional development courses for teachers - also have been cancelled for today and tomorrow, said Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the Philadelphia schools.

In Montgomery County's Lower Merion School District, the decision to close early was made Sunday evening, said spokesman Douglas Young. Word went out over the district's automated phone notification system, as well as through the district's website and the school cable TV channel.

Schools will also close early tomorrow.

"Our classes are not for the most part air-conditioned and it gets very very hot," Young said. "We want the children to be in a safe place and a classroom where it is 95 - 100 degrees is probably not that place." Young noted that in a few years, when two new high schools have been built, they, at least, will be fully air-conditioned.

In Bucks County's Bristol Township School district, the decision to close was made this morning, after the superintendents in neighboring districts consulted with each other, said spokeswoman Eileen Kelliher. For students in third grade and below, teachers called emergency contact numbers to let caregivers know that the children were scheduled to leave early, she said. And "no principal leaves until all the children leave." Schools will also close early (tomorrow), Kelliher said.

Schools in Chester County's Downingtown Area School district remained open, as they did in Delaware County's Radnor Township School district. There, one school, Ithan Elementary, is only partly cooled, said spokeswoman Lisa Williamson, but students were shifted into the rooms with air conditioning, so "no child was in a class without it."

In South Jersey, the Camden schools closed at 1 p.m. today, and will do so again tomorrow. Parents were alerted by television, radio and telephone.

Other school districts were enjoying their air-conditioning, or making do the best they could.

Washington Township schools closed early, but not because of the heat.

"We had half-days this week anyway; the high school has finals. But we have air-conditioning," said Jan Giel, school district spokeswoman.

All of Pennsauken's school buildings are not air-conditioned, but district officials decided to stick to full days today and tomorrow, rather than run the risk of dismissing children and having them be without adult supervision.

"It's hard for parents to change their plans on such short notice," said Superintendent James Chapman.

Staff took a common sense approach - letting children take drinks and no outdoor physical education classes.

"We're taking it easy," Chapman said.

Many of the students streaming out of Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School midday Monday defied the heat with their knee-high florescent socks, encouraged as part of the school's Spirit Week.

Michelle Toci, mother of Mallory, 8, said she considered cutting the feet out of her daughter's striped monkey socks "so she would be cool."

Caroline Bolletino, 10, and brother Ryan, 8, were met by their grandmother, Millie Augelli. She was to bring the kids to Haddonfield High School to meet their mother, a school nurse there, before heading to work herself at Horace Mann School in Cherry Hill.

Augelli said the closing was an "excellent idea" despite any childcare juggling it required. She hoped Horace Mann might follow suit before temperatures rose even higher.

"I'm going to melt away," she said. "I hope we'll close tomorrow."

Across the street from the school, Laura Malcarney had taken home to her brown Tudor her son, Colin, 7, along with a friend, Max Norton, 7, whose mother was still at work.

"A lot of parents were trying to scramble," she said. "We're all working together to try to get each other's kids and get everyone home."

Malcarney's suggestion that the group head to Max's pool, perhaps with some popsicles, was met with cheers.

Rhonda Berzanski, a former Floridian, said she initially thought the early dismissal was excessive. After cancelling her afternoon appointments to be with son Nolan, 7, she heard that some students were stationed in particularly hot rooms on the school's upper level.

"This doesn't feel like extreme heat," she said. "But it's all about the kids. If they think kids could be uncomfortable or it could affect their health . . . I've changed my mind. I'm all for it."

At Gloucester City, two of the district's three buildings are fully air-conditioned. In the third building, teachers were trading classrooms back and using the auditorium and library to keep children in air-conditioned area as much as possible, said schools spokeswoman Lynda Lathrop.

At the Andrew Jackson Elementary School in South Philadelphia, students were let out at 12:09 p.m. By 12:35 p.m. only three students at the 333-pupil school waited for their parents to pick them up. By 12:45 the school was empty. Just the principal's office is air conditioned.

"First we're going to pick up an air conditioner," advised parent Chinara Bilaal, as she picked up her daughter, Najee, 9, and her son, Nasir, 7, from school.

Najee said because of the heat her third grade class today had "writing, lunch and we played games."

Nasir said he would spend the afternoon sleeping to escape the heat; his sister said she would just play.

At Andrew Jackson, principal Sherry Lewis said she is advising teachers to have "student engagement continue until the last day of school" -- despite the heat.

An excessive heat warning is in effect until 8 p.m. tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service. Today's expected high of 99 would break the record of 98 set in 1933. Sleeping tonight could be tough, the temperature will dip only to 79 degrees.

"By and large, our schools are not air-conditioned," said Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion Schools. "It gets very uncomfortable for our students staff so we made the decision yesterday afternoon."

The private Pen Ryn School in Fairless Hills held its eighth-grade graduation yesterday in the un-airconditioned school, giving school officials an uncomfortable preview of what today might be like.

The result: Classes were called off a day ahead of time at the 230-student school.

"I determined that if it was going to be as hot today as it was yesterday, we would have to close," said Liz Morton, head of school at Pen Ryn. "It's just not healthy for the kids."

Late yesterday, word went out via email, TV and radio ads and a phone chain, Morton said. Still, a couple of kids did show up this morning – possibly because of answering machines that weren't checked.

In South Jersey this morning, Steve Wisniewski dropped off his 10-year-old daughter, Regan, at Edison Elementary in Haddon Township.

"The kids were pretty excited when we got the call last night the schools were closing early," said Wisniewski. "I couldn't believe it. My wife and I were talking about it and realized we'd never had off for heat."

The early dismissal also surprised crossing guard Betty McKeown, 61, of Collingswood.

"I have five children," said McKeown. "This the first time I've ever seen a school closed for heat."

There is no air conditioning at Edison Elementary, Wisniewski said.

Regan Wisniewski and her brothers will most likely spend the afternoon in the backyard pool, said Steve Wisniewski.

And there's icing on the hot, hot, cake. Because students will spend a half-day at school, "they won't have to make up the class time," Wisniewski said.

Tomorrow could be just as hot - threatening the record of 97 set in 1964 - and even more humid, the National Weather Service warns. Afternoon thunderstorms could break the heat wave, but bring heavy rain and strong gusts.

The weather will be much more comfortable Wednesday through Sunday, with highs in the low or mid 80s each day.

Temperatures around 95 degrees on Sunday prompted the evacuation of 29 patients from the the Haverford Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Delaware County. Officials say the air conditioning serving the second floor of the building had failed. Some residents were moved to other facilities.

Here's a partial list of closings and early dismissals:

Bucks County

Pen Ryn School Fairless Hills. Closed

School Lane Charter School, Bensalem. Early dismissal today and Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Bristol Township Schools Early closing today and tomorrow.

Chester County

Saint Basil the Great School Kimberton. 1 p.m. dismissal.

Phoenixville Area School District Secondary schools dismiss at 11:05 a.m., elementary schools at 12:05 p.m. No p.m. kindergarten. The eighth grade Dorney Park trip will proceed as scheduled.

West Chester School District Elementary schools only will dismiss at 1:00 PM; AM Kindergarten dismisses at regular time; no PM Kindergarten; children will have lunch before dismissal.

Montgomery County

Lower Merion School District. High schools, 11:30 p.m., middle schools, noon; elementary schools, 12:30 p.m. Decision to do it again tomorrow may be made this afternoon.


Burlington County

Bass River Township School District 1:15 p.m. dismissal.

Florence Township School District Dismissal "after morning session."

Rancocas Valley Regional 12:15 dismissal.


Camden County

Haddon Township Schools Dismissing "early." High school and middle school close at noon.

Haddonfield School District Schools dismiss after lunch. Parental note needed for a student to be dismissed early.

Lawnside Borough Schools Dismissal at 12:45 p.m. today and Tuesday. Administrators advise students to "dress down."

Oaklyn Borough District Dismissal at 12:45 p.m.

Stratford School District Dismissal at 12:30 p.m.

Woodlynne Schools Early dismissal at 12:30 p.m.