AUSTIN, Texas – At an Austin elementary school, rats are gnawing through students’ backpacks to steal their lunches.
They’re also reportedly scurrying above classrooms at Winn Elementary School, and occasionally drop down through holes in the ceiling tiles to pay students and teachers a visit, KVUE reports.
“There were holes in the ceiling and the rats would come down into classrooms,” said JoAnn Furner, who worked as a librarian at the school for 13 years before retiring in January. “There were three classrooms that had holes in the ceiling, and the tiles were urine, and during the day they would come down, and then classes would have to be moved.”
Over the last two years, the rats have forced classes to relocate to the library, but school officials have done little to fix the problem, Furner said.
“When I talked to the administration, they just stared at me and shrugged,” she told KVUE, although she acknowledged officials moved at least one teacher, who was pregnant, because she couldn’t take it anymore.
“They moved her whole room to another room, because she said, ‘I’m not going back in there. I’m afraid that I’ll get sick,’” Furner said.
The former librarian’s comments confirm reports from parents and others who have contacted local television news stations to complain about the rat infestation in recent weeks. District officials, however, have tried to downplay the problem by asserting the rats didn’t arrive until December.
Austin Independent School District maintenance director Juan Nunez told KVUE the rats made their way into the school in December to survive the cold temperatures. The district then began an “exclusion” process to seal the school from future invaders, but that only worsened the problem, he said.
“We keep our schools warm even when there’s no school just to make sure nothing freezes, and they find a nice warm place to hibernate,” Nunez told KVUE.
But when “nothing can come in, then the rodents can’t get out, so when they can’t get out, they start to panic,” he said.
Nunez said maintenance workers are now trying to trap the rats that remain, and are working with school officials to contain all food to the cafeteria in an effort to eliminate competing food sources, according to the news site.
“We eliminate the competitive food source, which is snacks and food that kids bring into the classroom, so we’re working with the school and they’ve done a good job of eliminating that,” he said.
In the last two weeks maintenance workers have captured a total of eight rats, Nunez said, and they hope to eliminate the rest by the end of this week.
AISD issued a brief statement about the problem to KVUE:
“Over the past 15 months, the district’s pest management team has received occasional work orders to address rodents at Winn Elementary School. In the process of addressing the filed report, additional reports were generated, concerning the same matter.
“Due to the frequent work orders, exclusion work began in December. This work is ongoing, and with it comes increased activity.”