Photos by Jennifer Cortez

Rodent droppings in classrooms and cafeteria. Holes in the walls and ceilings. Radiators that are hot to the touch. Crumbling floors and ceilings. No soap. No toilet paper. Parents, in fact, supplying kids with toilet paper from home.

The list goes on and on.

These conditions at Buena Vista Horace Mann Community School on 23rd at Valencia have become the source of growing frustration at the K-8 institution. Both staff and families are fed up with the decrepit facilities.

When BVHM mother Bernice Casey wrote to the San Francisco Unified School District in February on behalf of the Parent Teacher Association, she says she did not receive a response; a week later, she raised her concerns at a school board meeting to request a facility evaluation.

Increasingly frustrated by the school district’s unresponsiveness, Casey last week filed an official complaint with the district to advocate on behalf of the school’s children and the teachers.

“I understand that [SFUSD] has over 100 schools, limited resources and very few facility staff,” she wrote. “However, I am concerned that the district has ignored my earlier requests for assistance on behalf of Buena Vista Horace Mann.”

In the 2017-2018 school year, Latinx students made up 81.3 percent of the student population at BVHM. Fifty-three percent were considered English learners, while nearly 60 percent of students were labeled as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Photos by Jennifer Cortez.

Alejandra Palomo points out the radiator covers adjacent to the cafeteria tables. “They put this [the radiator covers] to protect the heaters because they would get so hot, but the metal corners are super dangerous and they are the same height as the children when they sit down,” she explained.

As a volunteer during the students’ lunch break, she has often observed the energetic kindergarteners and first graders pushing each other against the radiator. “It was already dangerous, and they resolved it with an even more dangerous solution,” said Palomo.  

A second-grade mom, Guadalupe Gomez, said that in some classrooms, there is no way to turn off the heaters. “It’s not fair that the children are muriendo de calor [dying of heat],” she added.

Luz Rodriguez said her kindergartener’s face broke out in a rash about a month ago due to the warmth. “Ronchas! My son, too!” another mom exclaimed. “Their little faces get itchy and red.”

Nodding in agreement, Maria Nuñez has seen the children peel their clothes off because they cannot stand the warmth. Palomo said that some of the windows are sealed, furthering discomfort in the sweltering classrooms.  

Air quality was a major concern last November, as the smoke from the Camp Fire blanketed the Bay Area. Before SFUSD announced school closures, students at BVHM were advised to stay home, but this option was not feasible for everyone. During that time, parents pitched in for an air filter for a smoky kindergarten classroom.

“We also just need the teachers’ classrooms to be thoroughly cleaned,” said Minelia Sanchez, a fifth-grade mom, who worries that the younger children are touching rodent droppings. Mission Local observed rodent droppings and access holes for rodents in various classrooms, in addition to the cafeteria.

Photos by Jennifer Cortez

Limpieza, limpieza!” The cleaning, she said, is essential. “This is what we are asking, for our children, but for all the students as well.”

CLICK HERE FOR A SLIDESHOW OF CONDITIONS AT BUENA VISTA HORACE MANN SCHOOL.

Things have gone from bad to worse this school year, a group of about 10 mothers said. Their children are hesitant to use the restrooms — and consequently, many hold it in all day or wet themselves.

This year alone, one mom said, her first-grader has wet himself three times.

Students have gone so far as to ask their parents for toilet paper to bring to school.

After a week of calls and e-mails to various SFUSD officials, Mission Local received an email on Monday evening.

“With over 120 school sites, and limited resources, SFUSD’s Buildings & Grounds team has to focus most of its effort on addressing critical life safety issues at sites, and/or compliance with legal mandates,” wrote Laura Dudnick, the district’s public relations manager.

“The last time BVHM was part of a bond modernization project was in 2003. There is a floor repair project scheduled at BVHM this summer. There are no bond renovations scheduled there this summer. However, the Facilities division is working with the school administration to prioritize requested work orders, identify those which can be addressed soon, and to offer training as needed to BVHM administration for how to put in work orders so that requests are received by the Facilities Department in a timely manner.”

And yet, BVHM staff say putting in work orders can be a futile exercise.

In Mira Carberry’s classroom, the floor’s tiles are peeling off. It also took filing a formal complaint in March to the school district’s office of equity to finally make a change.

“I’ve been in the same room for seven years,” said Carberry, a third-grade teacher. “That’s how long it’s taken them.”

Carberry had previously submitted at least two work orders per school year, to no avail.

“The repair folks were annoyed because they kept coming in for the same thing over and over again. They would be like, ‘Yeah, they need to replace the whole floor,’” said Carberry. “And it was just like that every time they would come in.”

Photos by Jennifer Cortez.

Nearby, another teacher, America Lopez, said her ceiling fell on her desk right before spring break. She immediately wondered if her classroom had asbestos.

As she waited for an inspection from the school district, she kept the students out of the classroom for a few days before anyone came in to look at her ceiling.

“The whole time we didn’t even have a classroom,” she said. “We were just borrowing other people’s spaces.”

Like Carberry, it took writing a “very legally worded document,” with the help of her mother-in-law, who’s a lawyer, for the district to verify that there wasn’t asbestos in her classroom.

The teachers look forward to the district’s scheduled summer repair work at BVHM, but as summer programs will occupy every single classroom, they wonder if the repairs will still continue and to what extent.

“A space should be a reflection of who you are,” said Carberry. “When the floor is crumbling beneath your feet, I feel like the message that it’s sending to our students is just so completely disrespectful.”

CLICK HERE FOR A SLIDESHOW OF CONDITIONS AT BUENA VISTA HORACE MANN SCHOOL.

Join the Conversation

18 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article, Jennifer! The PTA has been complaining about this for years.
    You may be interested to know that the Buena Vista Horace Mann “School Accountability Report” rates the school facilities as in “exemplary” condition. You can read it on page 6 of this report.
    http://www.sfusd.edu/assets/sfusd-staff/rpa/sarcs2/sarc-618.pdf
    It’s disappointing that the district has been so dismissive.

  2. It’s great to know sfusd cares more about the 6 homeless families that required a shelter costing over 500k than the 600 plus students and staff expected to teach and learn in such squalor. And they wonder why middle class parents attend private schools.

    1. School is a joke. Hillary Ronen is a Joke. SFUSD is a joke. Principal is only looking for her own political ambition – basically the Jane Kim of Principals. The only people who suffer are the actual teachers and students while the Principals and School District Directors get fat off taxpayer money.

      1. It isn’t just the current principal. She’s only been at the wheel for a year. The principal before her shares responsibility in the mess too.

    2. Still harping about the shelter eh? So glad you are leaving this year. Good riddance.

  3. Hello, Michelle.

    While that is, naturally, the first thing to think of, I’m sure you know that municipal governments aren’t run on the Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin principle. The money funding the homeless services at BVHM are allocated from a different source than those used (or not used) for campus upkeep. So, it’s kind of a false comparison.

    Best,

    JE

    1. Yes Joe. But you seem to be implying that those money sources are sacrosanct or determined by an act of God. they aren’t. In SF the BOS and Mayor have authority and discretion to determine how much money goes into each source. As just one example, the recent “windfall” from State education funds was divided up according to political priorities of the mayor and BOS. Some of it could easily have been directed specifically to BVHM. But it wasn’t. And I think that’s the essential and valid point Michelle was making. The accurate response to her is resource allocation is a political process with the rule being “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.

    2. I’d like to see the facts on this school vs other public schools across SF.
      Is this the norm? Or is this school getting less attention and funding than others?
      No child should have classrooms infested with mice and rats and peeling walls.

    3. Shelter or no shelter, the unraveling of BVHM points back to Zapien and Chandler dividing up the community with their unwillingness to hear or value different points of view.

  4. Here’s the relevant bond from 2003. Page 41 lists the projects that were supposed to be done at BVHM.

  5. BVHM is a school filled with caring teachers & staff, they care about our homeless students AND all our students (the differentiation is false). The disparity between the wealthy & working class in this town, is showing in our public schools. Money cannot solve all our problems in our schools, but it can solve some. The school district needs to allocate more money for our facilities. I’m glad that Jennifer mentioned the air quality issue, because that smokey air problem is going to return, and requires long term planning and prioritizing. It will affect every school in San Francisco, as air conditioning is not standard, and older windows are normal.
    https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/worst-air-california-los-angeles-sf-pollution-13792364.php

  6. My son has been at BVHM for the past 4 years. This article gets it right: our school is shamefully dirty and SFUSD has failed to make repairs. Part of his classroom was closed for a week this year because of a major mouse infestation and his (pregnant) teacher was understandably upset and distracted by having excrement, mouse bedding, and scurrying rodents in the classroom. Some of the student bathrooms didn’t have soap dispensers or bars of soap for more than a year – this is where our children cr@p and they can’t wash their hands afterwards?! My spouse and I visited several other public schools around the city in the past year. At these other schools, we’ve seen polished floors, freshly painted walls, stairwells without layers of used chewing gum, bathrooms with soap and working toilets, and play yards without widespread trash. I cannot understand why BVHM students and staff are expected to put up with unhealthy conditions and squalor for years on end, while other schools get cleaned and even renovated (something that is way overdue at BVHM).

    I’m also a strong supporter of the overnight stay program but we really need more resources to keep the school at the level of cleanliness and repair that’s the norm in SFUSD.

    1. To the point about trash… shouldn’t the school kids be taught at least to keep their home school clean rather than toss gum on the steps, and trash out on the bathroom floors (as pictured) or on the playgrounds as s learning moment in this situation? While I understand that robs of these things need to be addressed by trained tradespeopje, it rounds like at least part of the problem can be addressed by the school community itself.

  7. I think the real systemic problem is the extreme segregation in our schools. Can someone please explain this? How do we achieve more diversity representative of the surrounding community?

    1. The neighborhoods themselves are segregated. Rich parents send their kids to private schools. Working and middle parents are ambivalent about having poor and/or darker skinned families attend their kids’ schools. Efforts to integrate schools across neighborhood/ethnic/class lines are often resisted by the more privileged. When I taught at Horace Mann MS in the 1990s, the Consent Decree (NAACP&MALDEF vs. SFUSD & State of CA) was still in effect, which amongst other things put a 40% cap on any particular ethnic group at each school. Horace Mann in the 90s was ≈65% from 94110 and maxed out at 40% Latino. But Mann was also 100% OER (Optional or Open Enrollment Request) in those days and was a desirable middle school. But the District didn’t fight to renew the Consent Decree and the Lau decision threw out ethnicity enrollment caps. Not to mention the burnout many HMAMS teachers were experiencing from working extremely hard for over a decade to realized Consent Decree tenet (#4?) that “students from disadvantaged backgrounds could succeed in an academically rigorous program.” Then there was CSIP and then the merger with BV. And here we are now with Horace Mann not too different from where it was in the early 1980s when the suit that brought the Consent Decree was initiated. It breaks my heart to see, but…Don’t mourn, Organize!

  8. Local rec center.
    Automated irrigation broken.
    Vegetation already dead – trees starting to die.
    SF P&R employee vigorously hosing down adjoining sidewalk with tons of water inches from dying tree.
    “Hi, could you please throw a bit of water on that tree – the irrigation system has been out for months”.
    Response – “not my job”.

    Ipso facto – what you and I see as some of the things easily remedied – it’s not the job of the staff, parents or students.

  9. Thank you much for reporting on this. I had tried contacting the school board many times over the years on all of these issues, and they’ve ignored me as well.

    I have another son at another school on the west side of town with more students, and presumably more wear and tear on the building. And yet, this other school is immaculate. Clean, pained, and full of dignity for its staff and students.

    Clearly the district feels that poor academic performance from a socioeconomically-challenged population does not merit the same environment as better performing schools.

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