By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — CBS3 is fighting for Philadelphia school children and getting results.
Teachers at Carnell Elementary School contacted the CBS3 I-Team saying rodents are over-running classrooms and leaving behind a nasty mess.
The teachers, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBS3 that the problem has been going on for three years but has recently become so bad that it is compromising the health of their students.
The teachers, fed up by a lack of response from the school, sent dozens of photos to CBS3 of dead mice in hallways and classrooms and mouse droppings on student bookshelves, desks and tables. Teachers even captured a mouse on video eating chips in the hallway as a student walks right past it.
The I-Team tracked down Carnell Elementary School principal, Hilderbrand Pelzer but he did not want to see the photos and said he is not aware of such a problem.
Parents were shocked to see the photos and said they had no knowledge of the problem inside the building.
“They need to do something to control that problem because those pictures are disturbing,” said Carnell parent, Tavonne Roland.
While the mice issue surprised parents, students seemed used to it.
“Do you see mice in the school?” Investigative Reporter Charlotte Huffman asked a student.
“Yes … In our classroom,” the student replied.
The Philadelphia School District has cut back custodial services amidst budget cuts. The effects of the cuts were evident outside Carnell where trash was collecting.
Meanwhile, inside the school, teachers say the three year-long mice problem has become worse than ever.
One teacher agreed to talk to CBS3 about the problem but fearing repercussions from the school asked that her identity be hidden.
“I’ve gone into my closet to get the students’ books to give them their workbooks… and literally piles of mouse poop fall off the books. I’ve had to throw out books before ‘cause they were soaked in mouse urine,” she said.
CBS3 showed the photos to Dr. Evan Weiner, Interim Director of the Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Saint Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
Dr. Weiner said a rodent infestation poses health risks.
“Salmonella, hantavirus, leptospirosis, typhus, those types of diseases that we don’t really see that much but can be linked to bad rodent infestations,” he said.
When CBS3 pressed principal Pelzer about the issue he maintained he was unaware of it saying, “I’ve never seen that.”
Several internal e-mails obtained by the I-Team show a different story including one e-mail where Pelzer acknowledges the problem. In another e-mail Pelzer instructs teachers to follow protocol when submitting requests for custodial work orders writing “submit it to my attention… I will review the request.”
Teachers say they’ve followed protocol and filed about a dozen recent complaints with Pelzer requesting help but they say, so far Pelzer has done little to resolve the infestation.
“He said before he’s working on it, he’s given us suggestions like tie up the cords so they can’t climb up the cords onto your desk and tables,” said a teacher.
The I-Team contacted the district to find out the status of the teachers’ complaints but the district said they have not received them.
“We checked our database and with the health department and there’s no record of complaints.This is a complete surprise to us but that does not mean that we are not going to get to the bottom of it and make sure it gets cleaned up and find out what is going on with those work orders. Why are they not being responded to?” said Fernando Gallard, spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District.
On Thursday district officials told CBS3 that they’ve begun a review to determine why teachers’ complaints fell through the cracks. Officials also said that the district is launching an online system so officials on the district level can see a complaint as soon as it is filed and teachers can track the complaint’s progress every step of the way.
The system is expected to be up and running sometime in the fall.