10/02/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2013

Calling a Cool Hero

"It's cool." For decades, we've said that to make a comment on anything other than the weather (and no doubt there are a dozen more you can easily reference) where the words hot or cool appear and have little in common with the definition of either. So for the moment, let's forget the colloquial and just be literal. Hawaii has hot classrooms.

It's not just this year when locations around the country and the world have come through a summer and into fall with soaring temperatures. In Hawaii, it's usually warm, or hot, however you want to say it -- it's why visitors flock to our shores and people move here, and they do it by choice. Kids who have to sit in classrooms where thermometers register 90 degree heat don't have a choice.

Recently, teachers and about 500 students from James Campbell High School staged a rally at the state Capitol to make the point. Corey Rosenlee, a 15-year nationally Board Certified social studies teacher, lead the protest. He's no stranger to controversy and for years has blended teaching with activism by urging teachers and parents to take back their power to influence the governor, lawmakers, each other and the teachers union. Rosenlee is one of the organizers of the "Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules" movement and periodically we talk with him on The Conversation to get an update.

On a Friday, we called him before he headed off to class. He was candid as usual but politic, hopeful that the Department of Education would work with his school and all schools where air conditioning is a must -- and he was quick to say that AC isn't necessary in every classroom across the state. He was also straight up that this rally was just a warm up. (That was a slip, forgive me.) In February, he said, they will go back with a bill.

While the legislation is being crafted, it's worth asking a couple of questions. For example, why, in a state where we frequently hear 'ohana' this and 'keiki' that - and where parents, teachers and lawmakers have a longstanding tradition of pointing fingers at each other and especially at the DOE -- do we seem to pay lip service to our concern for kids who are bathing in their own sweat while being told they must learn? Or why we don't stop to puzzle over how we can be surprised that kids who are in a soporific state because their classrooms more closely resemble saunas aren't learning as well as they should, even in the absence of anything other than a good teacher? With no excuses for the other ills that plague Hawaii's educational system -- and you can fill in those blanks yourself -- are we skipping over the health necessity of a comfortable classroom conducive to learning?

The net result so far is that while we have continually talked about quality education, well-trained teachers, student performance, methodologies and pedagogies, we first make many kids and teachers compete with the heat for academic attention.

None of this is new. Over several past sessions, we've seen the issue pop up at the Legislature. Even when there is an agreement in principle, the vast sums of money touted as the price tag are the usual excuses for the inability to exercise a comprehensive plan to retrofit an electrical system and purchase the AC units. According to Rosenlee, the $100,000 cost per Campbell High classroom that has been bandied about at the DOE is ridiculous.

Whether he or the DOE is correct still leads to another question: Are there other solutions? Might there be a public-private partnership in the making with enterprising solar businesses? Might there be some, which, perchance, may have benefitted from the boom in their industry in part because of tax credits -- and which now may already see this as an opportunity to do something meaningful in the public interest?

We've recently been told the industry has stalled with concerns over a saturated grid and questions of the viable storage options. Could Hawaii's solar industry and the individuals who talk a good game about getting Hawaii off fossil fuel structure a pilot solution not mandated by a bill with a remedy rooted in last century thinking? Could they help some of the least powerful voices in the state, students from six to seniors sitting in sweltering classrooms? There are a lot of questions, but if they figure this out, they'll probably make a legitimate bundle from grateful folks rallying around a hero. And these kids need a hero.

In January, it will be cooler in Hawaii and cold in much of the U.S. The memories of the extreme heat that closed mainland classrooms this past summer will have faded. The next legislative session will start and the Earth will continue to rotate around our central heating system. There will probably be a lot of talk about caring for "our" kids. Come spring, the session will end, and so too, another school year. The lives of school kids will be one year closer to adulthood. As parents often lament, we can't reclaim those days. For parents whose only school option is their local campus, they'll face another summer with a hot August start to another school year. For their kids, that'll be anything but cool... unless there is a cool hero quietly planning now?