Montebello High School closed due to “appalling” rat infestation

Teachers arrived at Schurr High School in Montebello last week to prepare their classrooms for the opening on Monday. But instead of arranging books and desks, they found a horrific scene: dead rats on the floor, rat nests in the cupboards, excrement on desks.

“There was feces in my room in several places,” said Teacher Al Cuevas. “I could hear rats running around in the walls and on the ceiling. It’s disgusting. Other rooms near me were completely occupied by rats. “

After facing teachers’ frustration and safety concerns late on Friday – which never opened for face-to-face learning last school year – the school district emailed the parents of approximately 2,600 students that the campus was open to “the next couple.” will be closed for weeks. ”In a further educational setback, the students are transferred to an independent course of study.

About 90% of Schurr students are Latinos and about 80% come from low-income families.

VIDEO | 00:26

Schurr High School in Montebello has been closed due to rodent infestation

In this video shared with the Times, a rodent leaps off a shelf and scurries away in a classroom at Schurr High School in Montebello.

In addition to the rat infestation, teachers said the air conditioning was not working properly in a building where many classrooms have no windows. This problem is particularly acute as COVID-19 government security measures recommend improved ventilation systems.

Clipboard Mark Skvarna said the district should have better identified the problem ahead of the reopening. Skvarna was suspended in March, a few months after a tax analysis found the district was at high risk of bankruptcy.

“I’m not going to apologize that this stuff was done as well as it could have been done,” Skvarna said. “I don’t think it was done as well as it could have been done.”

Skvarna said he made the decision to close the school mainly out of concern that rodent feces or other health hazards might be in the HVAC ducts.

The health and safety shutdown comes as Montebello Unified School District officials have campaigned for months to thoroughly prepare the campus for a safe return to face-to-face learning this month. The district’s social media channels are littered with photos of workers thoroughly cleaning bathrooms, painting classrooms, inspecting HVAC systems, high pressure cleaning sidewalks, and removing carpets.

“Wonderful job preparing for a safe return!” Read a post.

Some parents said the late campus shutdown was particularly painful because they and their teens have been pushing the district to reopen its doors since last spring, when all but a few Los Angeles County’s school districts reopened campus. However, Montebello Unified kept its doors closed all final year, saying it would be the safest decision.

“It starts again, not back,” says Sandra Torres, the mother of a 14-year-old special school student who is due to start as a freshman at Schurr this year. “I’m so tired of so many setbacks.”

Sandra Torres helps her 14-year-old son Diego with a Zoom course at home in June. She was hoping he could return to face-to-face study this week.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Zoom lessons were impossible for Torres’ son Diego, who needed constant help to keep him on track. In the middle of last year, she asked him to put him into independent study, essentially becoming his teacher while working long hours as a nurse in the intensive care unit.

For a while she considered pulling him out of the district if the campus didn’t open, but when the district announced that it would reopen in the fall, she decided to stay.

Last week she started preparing Diego to help him understand what his new routine would be like when he started on campus – taking the bus, wearing a mask, adjusting his therapy sessions.

On Friday afternoon, she even met with teachers and administrators who explained the plan to return to school.

Hours later, she said she saw on social media that the school wouldn’t open its doors. The school district’s first statement said the closure was due to “construction and clean-up work”.

“I’m just upset and sad. And frustrated. And a little bit of everything, ”said Torres. “More for Diego. He’s not just your typical 14 year old … Now he’s so confused about the whole thing: “I should be going to school. What’s up?'”

Teachers have long complained about rodents, the lack of working air conditioning, and other maintenance issues.

“We’re even talking back years,” said teacher Paul Chavez. “It was a noticeable problem.”

He recalls teachers telling them that they were in meetings “and rats fell from the tile ceilings and rushed to the next classroom.”

As the school’s faculty president, Chavez said he made sure the school administration, supervisors and plant manager were made aware of the problem. They tried to address the problem, Chavez said, but he believes the district needs to do more.

“I just felt like this situation was patched when a little extra attention was needed,” he said.

When Chavez returned to school to help with summer school in July, his desk was “littered with rat feces,” he said.

He brought his shop vacuum cleaner from home to clean up the mess and then sanitized all of the desks in the classroom, he said.

Then, last Monday, as more teachers returned to campus to prepare for the first day of school, he realized that the situation was even worse than he thought.

“People came back to their classrooms and told me these conditions were terrible,” he said. “It was just a terrible situation … a lot of people dug in and did a lot.” [cleanup] work yourself, which shouldn’t have happened. But we wanted to prepare for our students. “

Skvarna said he expects the school to reopen in 15 days. The exact details of the self-study were unclear on Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t have the current plan of attack,” Skvarna said. “I deal with the topic of HVAC, cleaning the rooms, disinfecting the rooms.”

Skvarna, who has served as the district’s interim superintendent for about four months, said the campus has been neglected.

“We’re trying to bring these facilities up to standard,” he said. “I don’t think they were before. I think we have to make an effort and money. I don’t think it was a priority. ”

The district has faced fiscal and other problems for years. In 2019, federal officials accused school officials of misleading investors in a $ 100 million bond sale.

David Navar, president of the Montebello Teachers Assn., Said the students deserve better than what happened at Schurr.

“The tragedy here affects our students who haven’t been on the premises for 18 months,” he said. “It should be a celebration, a greeting. Instead, they lose precious minutes of class, and it is a tragedy that our students are not getting what they deserve and what they are entitled to, namely education. “

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