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Oakland Unified to Temporarily Close 2 Elementary Schools Due to Flea Infestation

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Officials with the Oakland Unified School District on Wednesday announced the temporary closure of two elementary schools due to a planned cleaning to eradicate a flea infestation.

Oakland Unified officials issued a press release that said the schools — Esperanza Elementary School and Korematsu Discovery Academy, which are both located at 10315 E Street in Oakland — will be closed to students and staff on Thursday and Friday for cleaning to eradicate the flea problem.

The issue first came up in mid-September. Since then, the OUSD has been working with exterminators to eliminate the fleas, but the problem has persisted.

A simple garden project in the Quad area of Esperanza Elementary and Korematsu Discovery Academy turned into one massive, itchy discovery according to Kathryn Wilson, a 5th Grade teacher at Esperanza School.

Oakland Esperanza Elementary School and Korematsu Discovery Academy
Chopper 5 over Esperanza Elementary School and Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland. (CBS)

"As soon as they get back on the concrete and getting in line, they are covered in fleas," Wilson told KPIX 5.

Wilson said she didn't know what to do at first.

"They're hopping. They're all over them, from their shoulders to their ankles," she said.

According to Wilson, it isn't just fleas. "I had a cockroach greeting me every day this school year," Wilson said.

So the teachers united, telling the district they wouldn't return to the classroom until it took steps to eliminate the problem. Oakland Unified responded by hiring a team of experts to find the source of the problem.

"The schools, which have a park on one side and wooded area on another, have seen issues with raccoons, which experts who were brought in by the District believe may have led to the flea problem," said a district statement on the closure.

District spokesperson John Sasaki told KPIX 5 on Wednesday, "Raccoons that we have been seeing on our campus that have come from those areas may be bring those fleas with them."

School district officials noted that they would not ordinarily shut down a school campus for cleaning, but said the temporary closure will "prevent fleas from spreading throughout the entire campus and…give treatments applied over the last two weeks more time to take effect."

"They kind of hitchhike," Sasaki explained. "When you walk through an area that has fleas, it might jump on your shoes, jump on your pants. And as you walk, they'll take a ride with you to wherever you are going."

Crews will additionally do deeper cleaning of all classrooms and common areas, including the removal of all carpets where fleas have been living and laid their eggs.

Students are being offered short term independent study and have work assigned. Teachers will also be encouraged to work with their classes virtually.

Andrea Nakano contributed to this report.

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