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External report on causes of heater failures at San Antonio ISD delayed until late March

A man in glasses and a navy suit stands at a podium with microphones with staffers in chairs behind him.
Camille Phillips
San Antonio ISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino speaks to reporters during a press conference on the return to campus January 22 after widespread heater failures forced the district to keep students home for two days.

When widespread heater failures in the San Antonio Independent School District left students shivering in classrooms in January, district leaders promised to publish a report on the causes of the failures. But publishing that report is taking longer than district leaders initially indicated.

Heating systems broke down at a majority of the district’s campuses when SAISD returned to class on Jan. 16 after a three-day weekend spanning multiple days of below-freezing temperatures. But SAISD leaders didn’t realize the scope of the problem until the second day of classes. In order to identify needed repairs and come up with a fix, SAISD closed all of the district’s schools for two days.

On Jan. 18, SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino sent a letter to staff apologizing for the heater failures and announcing the resignation of two key administrators. He pledged transparency and promised to work with an external team to publish a report outlining all of the reasons the heating systems broke down.

“We are painfully aware that San Antonio ISD was the only school system in the region to experience this significant of a systems failure,” Aquino said in the letter. “We know there is more than one cause. For that reason, we will work an external investigative team to examine the event and publish a full report summarizing the reasons for this breakdown.”

Chief of Staff Toni Thompson reiterated that promise at a press conference four days later.

“Our timeline is to get it established, to get it scheduled immediately. We already have an expert that's been working with us over the weekend to help us evaluate boots on the ground,” Thompson said. “So, we hope to have a comprehensive assessment finished just as quickly as we can. Certainly may take a few weeks, but that's our intention.”

After a few weeks went by with no report published, TPR filed an open records request for a copy. Officials said it did not exist.

SAISD spokesperson Laura Short told TPR the report will be published. She said to expect it in late March — two months after the heaters failed.

During SAISD’s first press conference on the heater failures, Aquino said a combination of human error and system failures caused the heaters at many campuses to malfunction. He said schools were directed to re-program their boilers to run 24/7 during the cold snap, but that directive wasn’t followed in some cases, causing boiler pipes to break.

“We did a check [when schools were closed] on Monday, and everything was functional, and nobody realized. And we own that,” Aquino said. “Nobody realized that some schools — we had not manually overridden the system.”

But, by the second press conference the following week, Aquino emphasized lack of funding causing the district to be unable to keep up with renovations as a primary cause. An external report would help clarify whether lack of funding or human error played a bigger role.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.