Cockroaches, rats, and mold are just three issues plaguing Jersey City high schools, according to a group of student activists who appeared at Thursday night’s Board of Education public meeting.
Members of the Revolutionizers of Jersey City High Schools include students from all eight Jersey City public high schools. “Our goal is to help the infrastructure issues in our buildings,” said Diany Diaz, a 16-year-old poet and artist in the Jersey City Arts Program at Snyder High School and student at Lincoln High School. “We have ACs that don’t work, paint that’s coming off the walls. We have cockroaches and rats that are joining us in attendance for class and are taking notes.”
Diaz continued that the group interviewed members of their schools about the schools’ conditions, and the answers were disheartening. Students reported that some locks do not work in bathroom stalls, water spills when the toilets flush, and soap is not always stocked. “Honestly, I’m disgusted with this,” said Diaz, calling for immediate action.
“I would like for these schools to be clean before I leave,” said high school senior Mariam Ibrahim, who also has experiences with pests in the schools and unsanitary conditions in restrooms. These conditions adversely impact the performance of all students, according to Ibrahim, and “a negative environment is not good for students, but a positive environment is great for students.”
An eleventh grader at Ferris High School, Sarah Reyes, spoke about her experience using the restroom, feeling water dripping onto her, and looking up to see mold on the ceiling while water is leaking. “Where’s our funds to fix our ceilings?” she asked.
Reyes also raised concerns about the lack of funding for the Jersey City Arts Program. She has been in the program for four years but has never appeared on stage, reportedly due to lack of funding, which has become a systematic issue across the district for other activities, including sports.
All the board members who responded to public comment praised the Revolutionizers for speaking up about their concerns.
Superintendent Norma Fernandez ensured that she would speak with custodial and maintenance employees to work with their supervisors to ensure the sanitation of all school facilities. Trustee Lekendrick Shaw requested a briefing at the next meeting about custodial staff inspections and placed an emphasis on making schools a safe and healthy learning environment.
Trustee Lorenzo Richardson called the Revolutionizers “rock stars.” He said, “You brought some concerns to me that should not be present right now” because of previous actions taken and money spent in the district, both for the facilities and arts and music programs. Richardson called for action to be taken with a “quick turnaround.” The arts program in Jersey City used to be one of the best in the state, said Vice President Noemi Velazquez, and “if it’s falling everywhere, let’s bring it back together.”
According to Trustee Afaf Mohammad, now that the students have made their concerns known, “it’s on our superintendent’s ears, it’s on our ears, and the work just has to be done.”
Another pressing issue for Jersey City students addressed at last night’s meeting was wearing hoodies in school, especially about claims of hoodies being confiscated from students at school.
Trustee Mohammad, who wore an orange Snyder High School hoodie to the meeting in anticipation of this topic, recalled her personal history of wearing hoodies in school as “security.” Students today may need a hoodie as a comfort item to make them feel safe in school, so suddenly confiscating them at school could cause more harm and stress to the child than anticipated, said Mohammad.
As Trustee Richardson pointed out, hoodies were being sold by a vendor at Snyder High School, and they were an additional layer needed for changes in room temperature. “We need to make sure that our policy does not reflect a view of our students in a negative way, just like we should be doing in terms of equity with a lot of other policies,” said Richardson.
Superintendent Fernandez affirmed that hoodies can be worn to and from school, but hoods cannot be worn over the head during school hours, denying any claims about confiscation. Fernandez said she will convene a committee of educators and senior staff to review the hoodie policy and how it is to be implemented in the schools, which will be addressed if needed.
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