DENVER (CBS4) – Several Denver Public Schools locations had to close for the day or dismiss students early Thursday because of record heat creating a difficult classroom environment and potentially putting them in an unsafe situation. DPS announced more schools will join the group Friday when another record temperature is expected to be set.

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“I mean I was surprised. I’m new to Denver and new to the school so I didn’t realize that was a thing,” said Beth Weinstein, a DPS parent. “I mean it’s definitely disruptive and we had no notice.”

Weinstein picked up her daughter in the second grade, outside the campuses of Merrill Middle School and Cory Elementary, which are located next to each other. Both locations scheduled a half day for Thursday and Friday.

“It’s actually 90 degrees and it gets really hot in the classroom because the A/C doesn’t blow much air,” her daughter, Parker, 7, told CBS4.

Her mother wondered if parents could provide some assistance to schools while they wait to update the HVAC systems across the district.

“I have some spare A/C units in my garage. Some wall units and standing units,” Weinstein told CBS4 on Thursday.

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DPS leaders explained that several buildings in need of an update are old, and the process takes a long time as one of their greatest challenges related to weather. Before a 2020 bond was approved, there were 55 schools in need of updates. Five schools have started the process with more scheduled through 2023, when about half will still need to be completed.

“Denver has been here since the late 1800s, our schools have been here that long too,” said Heather Bock, the director of planning, design, and construction for DPS. “Trying to modify a school that was designed then to meet today’s needs and requirements is very difficult.”

Schools do use heat mitigation techniques where they cool the building overnight and in the morning with windows open. They also have monitors to track the temperature during the day, which helps them decide if students can remain in the building. When temperatures are too high, as they were expected in the afternoon, a decision is made to close the school. But administrators say they have to take into consideration school lunches and bus transportation when making that call.

“So if we’re going to close down a building, it’s bigger than, ‘it’s hot’,” said Jennifer Anderson, the principal at Grant Beacon Middle School. “You see students tired, they’re frustrated.”

Her school got an air conditioning upgrade over the summer and this is their first school year with the new system. She says schools can help each other by sharing swamp coolers when one location has A/C.

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“Heat exhaustion is definitely an issue, so I’d rather have her be home than be uncomfortable,” Weinstein said before walking away with her daughter.

Parents acknowledged the need to end school with current weather conditions. The previous record of 94 degrees was set in 1994 on Thursday. Friday’s record from 2018 is 93 degrees.

“I think it’s going to be fine as long as I stay hydrated,” Parker said.

Some schools are only going to have a half-day of classes on Thursday and Friday. Others will be fully closed.

Half Day (Thursday):
Denison Montessori School

Half Day (Thursday and Friday):
Merrill Middle School

Half Day Friday:
Brown International Academy
Doull Elementary School
Manual High School
Stedman Elementary School

Closed (Thursday and Friday):
McMeen Elementary School
Traylor Academy

Closed Friday:
Hamilton Middle School

Temperatures will soar to record levels in many cities across Colorado on Thursday and Friday. The record high temperature in Denver on Thursday was 94 degrees from September 9, 1994. The record was broken when the temperature reached 96 degrees on Thursday afternoon. Friday should be at least a degree or two hotter than Thursday and the current record (93 degrees on September 10, 2018) is virtually guaranteed to be broken.

Shawn Chitnis