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Flex Alert program saves money, but hard to manage

The Claremont Unified School District is taking a second look at a Southern California Edison program that shuts off air conditioning at schools during peak usage hours.

At least one parent has complained about the Flex Alert program, noting that it puts children in after-school daycare programs like BLAST in unsafe and hot conditions during heat waves. The optional Flex Alert program shuts off energy entities, such as air conditioning, during high usage hours to save on energy and money, according to CUSD Assistant Superintendent Mike Bateman.

Sycamore parent Tria Belcourt wants the school district to do away with the system, and accuses the Superintendent Jim Elsasser of failing to notify the parents on Thursday, August 31 when the air conditioning was shut off.

“That agreement with Edison needs to be nulled and voided,” Ms. Belcourt said. “They need to let the parents know it’s occurring when it is occurring.”

She noted her son, who is in second grade and a part of the BLAST program, was complaining of being too hot when he was picked up from school on Thursday. Temperatures on that day, as well as much of last week, reached into the triple digits.

“As a parent that’s very sad because I pick him up and he’s hot,” she said. “He gets sunburned like crazy, and being outside is not an option. He’s not feeling good.”

Ms. Belcourt said that teachers in the after-school program moved the children from the portable classroom to the library when the air conditioning was turned off.

An all-parent notification was sent out on Friday afternoon, but not until about 3:45 p.m., Ms. Belcourt claimed.

She explained that Hilarie Dyson, the director of child development, tried to get the all-parent notification sent out, but was rebuffed. Ms. Dyson did not respond to an email asking for comment.

Mr. Elsasser could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Bateman said the reason the all-parent notification did not go out on Thursday was because the district was unsure about the length of the Flex Alert.

“It was later in the afternoon. We weren’t sure how long the Flex Alert was going to last,” he said.

Mr. Bateman explained that the CUSD signed up for the flex alert program to save money, and have been a part of the program for at least two years. In anticipation of an incoming flex alert, Edison notifies the district up to an hour prior to the air conditioning being shut off.

“They let us know at 2 p.m. or 2:15 p.m. for a 2:45 p.m. shut down,” Mr. Bateman said, adding that gives school employees enough time to move the kids from the affected classrooms to air-conditioned rooms, shadier areas and the new library.

But the CUSD may not be using the system for much longer.

“We as a school district are exploring if we could get out of it,” Mr. Bateman said, noting that the district is looking at the recent installation of solar panels as a possibly way to get out of the program.

But Ms. Belcourt thinks the district should have had a better plan in the first place.

“It happens every single year,” she said. “We get a heat wave before school starts, it should not be a shock. There should be a plan.”

Ms. Belcourt further alleged the students were positioned on the floor and were not allowed to touch the books while they camped out in the library, instead playing board games with the teachers.

“It’s not acceptable to have the kids like that. If you saw it you would be like, what the hell is going on here,” she said.

When asked about this claim, Mr. Bateman said he had “no idea” about it.

“I’m glad our staff took them into the library to cool off on Thursday,” he added. “It was a cool environment and the staff did a good job to put them into cool area.”

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com