A group of student activists returned to the Board of Education last night to complain of leaking pipes, toilette-paperless bathrooms and non-existent arts programs. The group, known as the Revolutionizers of Jersey City High Schools, harangued board members at last month’s meeting, apparently prompting a discussion of school repairs at Monday night’s caucus.
One revolutionizer, a senior at Snyder High School and member of the Jersey City Arts Program, said that the conditions in her school in her first in-person school year were “shocking.” She described a disintegrating building, dirty bathrooms and stairwells, and no clubs to join. “Does our low-income background instantly dictate how much dignity is given to us in this district?” she said.
Atlas Morales, a student at Ferris High School, said, “Outside of my first period classroom, there’s been a pipe that’s leaking for about two months now. It’s gotten to the point where it’s corroding the tiles underneath the floor.” According to Morales, the leak has not been fixed, and a trash can was placed underneath to catch the water.
Morales also said that is a restroom that “has not had toilet paper for about 2-3 months in any of the stalls. None of the bathrooms really ever have soap. The female restroom on the second floor of our main building continuously floods over and over again in the same hallway that leaks with that pipe,” in addition to toilets ripped off walls, sinks that don’t work, and toilets that won’t flush.
Sarah Reyes, a Ferris High School student who also spoke at last month’s meeting, pivoted to the Jersey City Arts Program. “Where is the funding for our theater and arts program?” she said, adding that the Revolutionizers will continue to speak out at meetings to express their concerns.
In response, Board of Education President Natalia Ioffe said, “Your very advocacy had been mentioned. The steps that the district is taking to remedy your concerns have been mentioned. Your pleas have not fallen on deaf ears,” referring to Monday’s caucus meeting.
“Students, you need to let your vice principals, your principals know … about issues in the school. If there’s no supplies in the restrooms, you need to tell them that day,” said Superintendent Dr. Norma Fernandez. “If the bathrooms are not clean, please address it with the administration that day so that they can follow-up with them.”
Dr. Fernandez also attributed some of the students’ concerns to the pandemic. “Unfortunately, this J.C. arts class had to deal with the isolation, the lack of performances, and the consequences of Covid-19. That has been, unfortunately, part of your education,” she said.
“Children are not responsible for toilet paper and soap,” said Trustee Gina Verdibello, “that’s the job of the employees here, so I expect somebody to go through the bathrooms in the morning to check in every school, not just one school or two schools.”
Verdibello continued, “I know at my child’s school, they have clubs. Why do not other high schools have clubs? And, you know, why is the arts always the first thing that has to be cut?” Verdibello encouraged them to keep coming to meetings to hold the administration accountable.
According to Trustee Lorenzo Richardson, the district received substantial funds for cleaning supplies at the beginning of the pandemic, so “the fact that it’s not happening now, that you’re lacking that, is beyond my comprehension at this point, considering that we have a ‘billion-dollar budget.’”
Richardson added that Superintendent Fernandez’s recommendation for students to address their concerns with their schools’ administrations would not be helpful because that was likely the first place they reached out to for help. “When there’s a failure for the administration to do something, the board has an obligation by law to act and to deal with it,” he said.
Addressing Fernandez, Trustee Afaf Muhammad said, “I don’t think that Covid should be used as an excuse for a program that’s failing its students.”