In the wake of the possible heat-related death of a 14-year-old student at Lakeside High School, McDuffie County educators are making a few adjustments to ensure that the same thing won't happen to a student in Thomson or Dearing.
Students' time outside is limited, and water breaks are frequent. And though there is only one school gym in the county with air conditioning, the gym at Thomson High School did not have the air on until after the incident at Lakeside.
McDuffie County Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen said the excessive heat prompted the air conditioning in the THS gym where temperatures reached 98 degrees. It also prompted principals to pull P.E. classes and recess into the main building when the heat index neared 100.
"We're just going off of common sense. If it's too hot, they make some adjustments," Dr. Petersen said. "Certainly, safety is number one. We hope not to have any issues like the other school had."
THS P.E. Teacher Lisa Cody said she had a student with heat-related health problems the day after the death at Lakeside. Later that day, the air was turned on even though she said officials told her it would only be used for special occasions.
"Before the air we were giving breaks every 15 minutes, or if you needed it, before then," Mrs. Cody said. "If we went outside, it would be a walking activity. We never said é─˛You've got to run.'"
Mrs. Cody said even with the air conditioning at THS, there are still dangers that she and other P.E. teachers have to look out for. She said take the rain on Monday for example.
"There's one class (period) we're going to have three classes in that gym at one time, and when you put that much body heat and add the humidity, it would be better to go stand outside in the rain," she said.
Maxwell Elementary P.E. Teacher India Anne Goodyear agreed.
"It just traps the humidity and all in. When you open the door in the morning, it is like opening a 400 degree oven, especially if the nights haven't gotten cool yet," she said.
Mrs. Goodyear has four fans in the gym, one at each door. She said worrying about the heat has only recently been a problem.
"I have taught for 25 years. I have never remembered even thinking about the heat until these last five years," she said.
She added that frequent water breaks and shifting activities into the school building are only temporary solutions. Installing air conditioning at the other schools has been discussed, but no action has been taken. Mrs. Goodyear thinks a different approach may be the way to go.
"The answer is not air conditioning, and that's expensive," Mrs. Goodyear said. "The answer is starting school later. I am seriously, seriously worried. I was worried before Monday happened that is was going to happen to us."
Mrs. Cody echoed those comments, saying something needs to be done soon.
"We do have to find an answer before that happens to us because we're just a ticking time bomb," she said.