OAKLAND -- As temperatures dipped into the low 40s this week, students and staff at dozens of Oakland schools shivered in their classrooms, a problem the district spokesman says was caused by "a combination of old equipment and a flawed policy."
Heating problems were reported in about 65 schools and offices throughout the city this week, according to a school district log. As of Thursday afternoon, heat had been fully restored to about 25 schools.
"Obviously, this is unacceptable," said district spokesman Troy Flint. "We apologize to all the students and the families and the staff members who were affected by the heat outage."
About two years ago, the Oakland school district decided to save energy costs by "going dark" during school holidays, including the week of Thanksgiving. Some districts, including New Haven and West Contra Costa, take similar energy-saving measures during extended breaks.
But on Monday, some of the heaters didn't restart properly, and some required replacement parts. To make matters worse, the district has only five heating technicians. The team was reduced to about half its size in 2009, Flint said.
In some cases, the outage was confined to the school library, the principal's office or a portable classroom; in others, such as Carl Munck Elementary in the Oakland hills and Frick Middle School in East Oakland, it was more widespread.
Debbie Pines was volunteering Thursday at her daughter's first-grade classroom at Munck. Portable heaters took the chill out of the room, she said, but the hallway was freezing.
"It's absolutely not OK," Pines said, adding that on the fourth day without heat, parents hadn't been informed about the problem or advised to send their children to school with warmer clothes.
Students at Frick said they wore coats and gloves to class, but still shivered. The temperature at the school was 40 degrees Wednesday morning.
This isn't the first time Oakland students have endured cold indoor temperatures. During a cold spell last December, district officials reported heating problems at nearly two dozen schools. A teacher at Paul Robeson High School, which is now closed, sent the Tribune a photo of students warming their hands over a projector.
Flint said he expected the district would revise its energy policy after this week's fallout. "We're going to make the necessary changes so we don't have a repeat performance in January," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.