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