Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for LAist comes from:

Inglewood Unified: Filth, exposed wires, roaches still at some schools a month after KPCC investigation

Filthy classrooms. Blocked exit doors. Green matter, either mold or moss, growing in a drinking fountain.  Those are just some of the 23 "extreme deficiencies" a Los Angeles County inspector found on a recent visit to Inglewood High School, despite a promise by the school district's leadership to fix problems exposed by a KPCC investigation.

The inspection by the Los Angeles County office of Education was performed a month after a promise by the state trustee running Inglewood Unified School District and the state school superintendent to clean up Inglewood High, which came in the wake of KPCC's investigation into unsanitary and unsafe conditions at various Inglewood schools.

"The school appears to have a lack of maintenance and or repair," wrote inspector Anthony Vallo, who added, "As a result there are many extreme deficiencies through out the school."

Vallo photographed some of the problems, including:

  • Ceiling damage in the boy's locker room, the library and some classrooms
  • Flooding in the auditorium
  • Excessive trash in some classrooms and a storage area
  • A clogged, damaged drinking fountain in the girls' locker room with "moss or mold" in it, and a shower stuck on with the water running
  • Broken windows in a classroom

Vallo found the same conditions KPCC had observed, including exposed wiring, holes in ceilings, and a courtyard breezeway falling in.
The inspector found exposed wiring in three locations "with voltage present," and four blocked exit doors - three of them in classrooms. He found three fire extinguishers that were either out of date or missing inspection tags. Vallos also found water damage in walls and/or ceilings in several classrooms and other areas.

Trash piles and rats are typical at Inglewood High, according to 11th grader Annabelle, who also said there is a major cockroach infestation.

"There are a lot of cockroaches....big ones," said Annabelle, who asked that her last name be withheld.  

Vallo found "evidence of cockroaches" in the kitchen/cafe during his inspection, according to his report.

Don Brann, the state trustee running Inglewood Unified, announced last month that an exterminator will visit the campus "on a monthly/on-going basis." The move was part of an "action plan" Brann unveiled in response to KPCC's reporting.  The plan included "deep cleaning" of the school's bathrooms and "additional training and support" for the school's custodial and maintenance staff. 

Brann also said that maintenance staff had "prioritized a list of repairs" at Inglewood High.

On Wednesday, Brann told KPCC he hadn't read the county inspection reports on Inglewood High and eight other Inglewood Unified schools, but said he is committed to clean and safe schools and has cleaning crews working weekends.

"The conditions here are really difficult to deal with," said Brann. "Inglewood High for example is a hundred years old in certain parts," he added, noting that he has called for the building of a new high school.

'Dry rot,' 'mold,' 'sagging' ceilings or floors

Inglewood High is not the only school with problems, according to county inspectors.

Of the nine schools inspected, only three received a "good" rating. Inglewood High ranked the worst, with Morningside High and Monroe Middle School rounding out the bottom.

At Monroe Middle School, inspector Vallo found four areas that merited an "extreme deficiency" rating, including the kitchen, where surfaces had "mildew or visual mold," the ceilings or floors "are sloping or sagging" and there is "dry rot/mold in structural components."

Vallo's photos show the wall in the kitchen's back room is missing drywall, with "severe damage and several studs damaged or missing." In noting the "heavy damage" to the back room, the inspector noted in his report that the room "has been like this for some time."

Caption: An inspector's photo of damage to the ceiling in the back room of Monroe Middle School's kitchen. (L.A. County Office of Education)

Morningside High also had a number of extreme deficiencies, including locked exit doors and a pigeon infestation. 

"We know that our facilities are old but this is pretty extreme and we haven't experienced anything like this in the past," Kelly Iwamoto, President of the Inglewood Teachers Association said in reaction to the county report.

When asked if he could patch walls, fix leaks and get rid of cockroaches at Inglewood schools over the holiday break, Brann said, "Yeah I think we can get those things recentered and back to being reasonable, but they need to be really replaced and to be nice."

Lawsuit prompted mandatory inspections

L.A. County's inspections of Inglewood schools are required under a set of state laws commonly referred to as the Williams Settlement Legislation.

The laws were created as part of a 2004 settlement between the state and civil rights groups that had sued, claiming public school children were being denied basic tools needed for an education.  Inglewood students and parents were some of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The Williams laws require the facilities of low performing schools to be inspected for various conditions, including safety and cleanliness.

Records show Inglewood Unified has done well in previous county inspections.

Inglewood High School has earned a "good" rating in five of the last seven inspections, dating back to 2008.  The school earned a "good" rating as recently as this past April, earning a score of 93 percent out of a possible 100 percent. It dropped to "poor"  - the lowest classification - during December's inspection, with a score of just 12 percent.  

Caption: An inspector's photo of "excessive clutter or trash" in an Inglewood High School classrom's storage area. (L.A. County Office of Education)

Chris Graeber, an official with the union that represents Inglewood Unified's classified workers, thinks Brann's June decision to fire a number of janitors is to blame for the slide.

"They laid off 18 custodians, and they also laid off the people who were in charge of those custodians," said Graeber.

Brann, who made the cuts as part of his attempt to pull Inglewood Unified out of debt, denied the layoffs were the cause of the problems at Inglewood High and the other schools. He added that he re-hired most of the laid-off supervisors as lower-level custodians, "saving all that differential pay."

The state took over a nearly bankrupt Inglewood Unified in 2012 and gave it an infusion of $29 million. Brann is the District's third state trustee; he took over in July 2013.

Teachers' union president Iwamoto expressed frustration with the slow pace of repairs. "The union tells [Brann] and his cabinet all the time" about the problems cited in the inspection reports, she said, noting that a state monitor's report on Inglewood Unified last summer referred to some of the same issues.

"I think it just further proves that something needs to be done," said Iwamoto. "Enough talk... we want Don to have effective leadership to get these things done."

'The buck stops with the state'

"The buck stops with the state," argued David Sapp, director of education advocacy for the ACLU of California, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit that led to the Williams laws.

Since California's Department of Education "is operating and responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school district," it is "fully responsible for what is happening at the school level," Sapp asserted.

"I just think about the student who's sitting in a room looking at a hole in the wall with water or rain coming in and what that communicates to the student about how the state values his or her education," he said, adding, "when I think about that I just know that if I were the state superintendent I'd be on the next plane down to Inglewood to get to the bottom of what's going on and make sure that there's a solution."

In response to KPCC's report last month on the problems at Inglewood Unified,  State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson  said he and his staff would "get to the bottom of things that need fixing right away."

Beyond convening a meeting with his staff and Brann, it's unclear what other steps Torlakson has taken. He has not visited Inglewood Unified since KPCC's initial report, according to his office. 

 Torlakson was unavailable for comment for this story.

County inspectors will conduct a follow-up visit to Inglewood High on January 5th to see if any of the "extreme deficiencies" have been corrected.