Education in Oakland

Oakland Students Forced to Study and Eat with Rats

Posted by novometro on October 9, 2007

Alameda County Office of Education inspections conducted in the spring, found that “dozens of OUSD schools have dangerous and unhealthy conditions,” according to a letter civil rights lawyers mailed to Oakland Unified officials last week.

An OUSD spokesman said they don’t have a complete copy of the letter, but the 11 out of 29 pages he faxed over to me reveal that the ACLU of Southern California, Public Advocates Inc., and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights uncovered some dirt. Literally.

For example, at Life Academy, a high school with nearly 300 students on International Boulevard, the inspectors discovered a “filthy” staff restroom, an unflushable toilet on the fourth floor girl’s restroom, and a rodent infestation. You can almost hear the inspector gagging as he or she writes, “site conditions appear that the facility and restrooms are not maintained or cleaned on a consistent basis…”

There were more rats. Students at Oakland Technical High School should know that the inspectors discovered a rodent infestation in the cafeteria and kitchen. Roosevelt Middle School also suffers from a plague of rodents.

The lawyers who wrote to Vince Matthews, OUSD’s new state administrator, are co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Williams v. California, a lawsuit which claimed that state agencies failed to provide “public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers.”

In 2004, the case was settled with extra state money earmarked for some schools. But as the lawyers write, there has been a continuing lack of compliance on the part of OUSD. Just ask the students in the nine classrooms at Santa Fe Elementary who had no heat last winter. Or the students at Skyline High School, who go to a school where 60 percent of the lights are dead.

If I can get an electronic copy of the whole 29-page letter, I’ll post it here.

Update: Here’s the whole letter: Civil Rights Letter


7 Responses to “Oakland Students Forced to Study and Eat with Rats”

  1. dto510 said

    This is deplorable, but how long have unsanitary facilities festered? I’d be surprised if conditions were any better five years ago.

  2. Adeline said

    I live about a block from Bret Harte Middle School. When my daughte was a student there, many years ago (she’s almost 28 now–so we’re talking 14, 15, even 16 or 17 years ago), my house would be full of kids at lunchtime, sneaking off campus and coming over to use my bathroom because the bathrooms at Bret Harte were so gross that they wouldn’t use them.

    As PTA president at that time, I screamed and screamed about this and tried (unsuccessfully) to get the county health department to investigate. I was also unable to convince anyone at the Trib or Chron to check out the problem.

    Alex, thanks for reporting on this and doing what journalists should be doing.

  3. Deckin said

    I want to preface my comments by requesting that they not be read wrong. I think unsanitary conditions are deplorable and children in this nation shouldn’t be exposed to them. But, that much having been said, unsanitary conditions are about 3786th on the list of things fundamentally wrong with OUSD. And to blame unsanitary conditions for children failing to perform is a pathetic cop out. Why? Ask anyone who’s travelled to other countries whose students routinely beat the pants off of ours when it comes to test scores, academic achievement, and basic all around smarts. I’ve seen schools in China and India with dirt floors, bugs on the walls, and people complain about filthy bathrooms? I’ve been to the top universities in these countries (places where research published in top journals is being done) and the bathrooms there would make most Americans gag. Hell, any public restroom in either China or India that wasn’t in a 5 star hotel would make most Americans gag. So, if one is looking for excuses as to why OUSD can’t seem to produce more well educated kids, I’m sorry, the dirty schools argument won’t wash. As I’ve said here before, don’t look at the physical school, look at the students and most importantly look at the parents, and not their physical characteristics or lack of nice clothes, look at their attitudes towards education.

  4. Priyanka said

    Hey Deckin,

    That’s an interesting comment. I’m sure you’re correct when you say one needs to look at parents and students. But as someone who grew up in India — and as someone who’s lived in (and reported on and from) various cities in India, I think I can say with some certainty that it’s not fair to compare these kids with kids in Indian schools. Kids who go to OUSD do not live in a developing country.
    1) The kids that you say routinely beat the pants off the kids here are not kids that go to the equivalent of OUSD schools. By and large (and there must be some exceptions), they go to private schools — which aren’t as expensive there as they are here.
    2) You haven’t seen the bathrooms in the homes of a lot of these kids in Indian schools. Don’t assume that they all have clean bathrooms at home.
    3) There is also, culturally, a huge emphasis on education in both India and China (I can speak about China because I have cousins that live there.) In India, the majority of the population is illiterate, but there is a growing realization that the only way people get their kids a better life is by educating them. (The concept of welfare doesn’t exist.) So, people will work 3 jobs if they have to — to make sure their kids go to a decent private school, and eventually end up in a decent college/university.
    4) Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer, begins one of her essays with a line about people in India living in many different centuries at the same time. It’s true. There are schools that resemble luxury hotels, and schools that barely offer basic amenities. And there’s an in-between: very good private schools (good because of the teachers they hire) that don’t have ultra-clean bathrooms. But the kids who use those bathrooms aren’t kids who live in a developed country. Expectations are different as are lifestyles.

  5. Deckin said


    Thanks for the reply. Of course you’re absolutely right that we, in a developed country, shouldn’t subject anyone to unsanitary conditions. Also, I’m aware too that there are many kinds of education in India, though this is much less true in China. Still, I’ll stand by the point about the universities–though here it’s only China I have first hand knowledge of. I have a relative who is producing world class research (cover of Nature) in a lab that would make the labs at Oakland Tech look pretty good by comparison. The main point is that it’s easy to look at things like the physical appearance of a school as a main causal factor in producing knowledge and learners and I simply deny there’s any causal effect in that direction.

  6. Adeline said

    When my daughter and her friends were refusing to use the bathrooms at Bret Harte and climbing over the school fence to use my bathroom at lunch time, the situation definitely affected their ability to concentrate at school, particularly in the classes immediately before lunch and towards the end of the afternoon. That seems obvious to me.

  7. sandrar said

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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