Buena Vista Horace Mann school
Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 on the first day of school. Photo taken by Annika Hom, Aug. 16, 2021.

School board member Matthew Alexander said at a hearing on Buena Vista Horace Mann’s building maintenance Friday that he would propose spending $55 million to address issues that have been responsible for a litany of safety issues this year including a gas leak, a student getting an electrical shock and another tripping on a crack and sustaining an injury that needed 12 stitches.  

Supervisor Hillary Ronen called Friday’s hearing in front of the the Board of Supervisors committee on Youth, Young Adults and Families to investigate the safety and conditions at this Mission District K-8 school.

“This school means everything to everyone, but all the things that have been happening lately … It’s like we’re risking our lives for a war we can’t win,” said one fourth grader during the hearing. “We want funds because part of our school is falling apart. It just doesn’t feel safe anymore.”

Alexander said he will ask the school board to approve a transfer of $55 million in bond money from other allocated projects to Buena Vista’s renovations. This will amend the board’s recommendation, which supposedly promises $15 million, and will officially be released Friday, he said. 

“For me it’s phasing and priorities,” Alexander told Mission Local, whose reporter visited the school following the gas leak on Aug. 27. “We need to make sure that our existing schools are safe and healthy before we start building new schools.” 

Alexander said he would propose the $55 million transfer at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Education. He called Buena Vista’s conditions “critical.” 

For years, frustrated teachers and parents have asked the district to use school bonds for a complete renovation of the aging school. On Friday, staff again made that demand and also asked for independent inspections of Buena Vista Horace Mann, as well as monthly reports to update parents and staff on the school’s rehabilitation.

If there was any doubt about the building’s condition, those were put to rest on Friday as Allison Matamoros, a fourth grade teacher, presented the conditions at Buena Vista Horace Mann with her entire fourth grade class. 

Matamoros  showed pictures of exposed pipes and wiring; the blackened outlet after the May, 2021, incident in which a student was shocked; a room that required four fans to cool it off, and a copy machine plugged into a staff bathroom. 

“The main times we’ve seen [the] facilities [department] fix our buildings is when we’ve gone to Mission Local or we’ve complained at school board meetings,” Matamoros said at the hearing. Several people claimed that only after Mission Local first documented the dire conditions did the school receive toilet paper and soap.

Students testified as well. One elementary student said her classroom was “very cold.”

“How do I know that?” the student continued. “Because two students brought blankets.” 

Viva Mogi, Director of Policy and Planning for the San Francisco Unified School District, emphasized that the school is safe, and does not need to be shut down. Mogi said the district is committed to addressing the school’s needs, and will use some bond money to address that. 

Following fall community meetings in response to these incidents, Dawn Kamalanathan, the district’s chief facilities officer, estimated that a full renovation of the school could cost anywhere between $50 to $80 million. 

To parents and staff, there’s an easy solution: The Proposition A bond, which voters approved in 2016 to help construct new buildings and schools, as well as modernize old ones. 

In previous district documents, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 was listed as one of the possible choices, but ultimately wasn’t picked. 

Staff and parents made it clear on Friday that they now want to be chosen. 

The three supervisors on the committee — Ronen, Myrna Melgar, and Ahsha Safaí — agreed the time was right.  

“It’s horrendous,” Safaí said. “I think of my kids. My son would be the first to touch a hot pipe.”

Last month, a student was riding a scooter on the blacktop, and hit a large crack. He flew off and was taken to the hospital, and required several stitches, parents and teachers said. Matamoros added that the blacktop had many cracks.

And these problems have been addressed with “band-aid” solutions for years, students and staff say. Parents said that up until more recent incidents, the district’s building and grounds committee has been generally unresponsive to parent and staff requests about building upkeep. 

Aaron Zuzga, a seventh-grader at Buena Vista Horace Mann who will turn 13 in two days, said he’s used to the school’s problems. The art classroom is always hot for example, which is “annoying. It makes it harder to do projects with glue.” 

He recalled hearing about when the ceiling tile fell on that teacher’s desk, and when another student got shocked by a faulty outlet. (Those were fixed after the incidents.) He saw the hundreds of elementary students file out of the building this semester in fear of a gas leak. Zuzga remembered smelling something weird in the auditorium one day.

“Some people said it was a gas leak, some said it was a dead rat, so we had class outside,” Zuzga told Mission Local. (Originally, the district attributed the smell to a dead rat.) “Then a week or two later, everybody had to evacuate the building. I was just thinking, ‘I told you so.’”

“After a while, you start to think it’s gone too far,” said Aaron’s mother, Marisa Zuzga, who has been a mother of Buena Vista Horace Mann students for 13 years. “People are starting to reach their breaking point in terms of just not getting a response and being told, ‘we’ll get to you eventually.’” 

“I know the school is really old,” said Veronica Nieto, mother to elementary student Gael, in Spanish. “Parents don’t know if their kids are safe in this building. What if it’s not gas, but an earthquake, or other emergency in the school?”

Ronen also pointed to repeated safety violations that apparently went unchecked. A group of parents, one of whom is Bernice Casey, has been sending multiple safety violation complaints to the school district and the California Department of Education for several years. The letters point out how Buena Vista Horace Mann constantly gets rated in “good” condition despite these safety concerns.

“If you think this is in good enough repair, then perhaps you’re not doing a good enough job,” Ronen said. 

She plans to  propose the approximately $130,000 earmarked for potential affordable housing at Alemany Farmers Market be allocated instead to a full Public Works inspection of the school grounds. If passed, the inspection would begin immediately.

Matamoros hopes that is the case. She and others said they felt it was unjust that a school with majority Latinx, English-learner and low-income students must deal with these issues. For this reason, too, there will be a protest at the school at 4 p.m.

“It’s unfair that our students had to actually experience getting hurt for us for them to receive the attention they needed,” Matamoros told Mission Local. “No one should’ve gotten electrical shocked. No one should have had to hit a crack and flied off the crack.”

Slide from Allison Matamoro’s presentation.
Slide from Allison Matamoro’s presentation. The outlet after the student had been shocked.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Again, I find it SUPER interesting how the PRINCIPAL of the school CLAUIA DELARIOS MORAN is not mentioned at all in this article. I hope all those parents and teachers who were out there DEMANDING that Claudia be returned to BVHM after being suspended because the SCHOOL COULD NOT FUNCION without her….where is she now? I don’t see her with a bullhorn demanding improvements be approved ASAP. She’s MIA. She never cared about BVHM as soon as he own daughters left didn’t you notice? So obvious!

    1. Actually, Claudia has been out with a bullhorn advocating for the school. I’m afraid you don’t know what you are talking about.

    2. Hi Kohinoor,
      Thanks for reading. While I cannot comment on the principal’s intentions, I can say that she was quoted and mentioned in my previous article about the gas leak, and at the time she did express interest in resolving the matter quickly and for the benefit of the students and staff. Take that as you will.

    3. Wrong on all fronts. Through the pandemic, the school didn’t have a VP, so those duties fell on Claudia. It seems parents who left the school remain disgruntled. You left the school, be gone!

  2. Lot of unanswered/unasked questions from the hearing. Why did facilities staff rate the school as being in excellent condition if it wasn’t? If $15 million was already appropriated, why couldn’t some of that have been used for emergency repairs? Why was the gas leak misdiagnosed, and how can that be prevented in the future? Are there other schools in a similar situation, or was BVHM an outlier? Kudos to Commissioner Alexander for trying to understand how schools were prioritized for renovations, but it’s a shame that no one could speak to that process at all, and there was no commitment to follow up on that.

    Super interesting hearing. Kudos to Ms Matamoros’s 4th grade class and the BVHM community for being a squeaky wheel, to Sup Ronen for organizing the hearing, and thank you Mission Local for your years of reporting on this.

    1. Thanks Phillip for your readership and thoughtful questions.
      To be clear and to my knowledge, the $15 million was decided upon after recent controversy over the gas leak and shock ensued, and was not originally earmarked in the Proposition A bond until the past few months.
      As you have stated, at present there seem to be little answers for your remaining queries.
      Hope this is helpful.

  3. I hope legal recourse is utilized to address the injuries sustained by the students. Sometimes litigation paves a more equitable path to high quality, safer education in the face of obvious bias and negligence. (I know, I know – I “wax naive,” eh?)

    Annika Hom and Mission Local,

    Thank you for exposing this dangerous travesty with intelligent persistence.

  4. I am so glad that all the horrible building problems at this Latino school have been brought to the attention of the SF Board of Education and the general public. To teach and learn in these horrendous conditions it is UNACCEPTABLE. SF has enough money to spend renovating this old school which serves mainly to the Hispanic/Latino community. Shame of the School Board and administrators who have not done enough in the past to ensure poor children have a safe and proper environment conducive to learning!

    1. Hi DK,
      Thanks for the thoughtful question. Apologies it may not have been clear originally. Yes, that $130,000 that is supposedly earmarked would just pay for the DPW inspection of the school, not for building or renovation. Those costs would still be paid for under the bond, according to the most recent proposals.