“No mas ratas! No more rats!”
About 150 Newport Harbor High School students and teachers chanted Friday on the sidewalk in front of the campus administration building while holding colorful banners emblazoned with slogans such as “Congrats, we have rats” and “The plague, Part II.”
The demonstrators said the protest came after months of complaints about a rat infestation at the school’s Dodge Hall, where math and world language classes are held. Students and teachers shared stories of live and dead rodents, urine on desks and rats ripping tissues out of a box.
The protest kicked off at 8 a.m. with about 100 students and teachers.
A second wave of protesters, mostly Spanish teachers and their students, joined in shortly after 9 a.m.
Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said he attended the protest with other community members and that school administrators told them to leave the campus.
Dowdy said the teachers union plans to file a complaint about the infestation with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA.
While sophomore Nick Baljeu protested with his Spanish class, he shared photos he said were shot Friday morning of a dead rat under a heating vent on the second floor of Dodge Hall.
“It’s disgusting,” he said. “There’s just a lot of these … around our school.”
Newport Harbor staff said Principal Sean Boulton was unavailable to comment Friday morning.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District said in a statement Friday that “the well-being of students and staff is our No. 1 priority. The district has been working closely with staff to address concerns regarding pests. When we receive a work order related to integrated pest management, it is granted a high-priority status and we work to respond to requests as quickly as possible.”
Spanish teacher Cecilia Silva Santisteban said she and fellow teachers can’t work in the current conditions anymore. She said she arrived at school at 6:30 a.m. Thursday and found a dead rat in a trap under her desk, blood splattered everywhere.
Another Spanish teacher, Carlos Alcazar, said he recently leaned down to smell what he thought might be rat urine on a desk.
“It almost knocked me over,” he said. “Nobody should have to work like that.”
Asked who he thought is responsible for the rat infestation, Alcazar said placing blame on a particular person or group isn’t his primary concern.
“Whoever is responsible knows they’re responsible,” he said. “We just need it to be fixed. It’s not fair for the kids.”
Newport Harbor High has waged high-profile battles with rats in the past.
Rat sightings in Dodge Hall flared in late 2016. At that time, school employees set traps in classrooms to catch the rodents, and a math teacher photographed two dead rats in snap traps on a wall in his classroom.
DANIEL LANGHORNE is a contributor to Times Community News.