Rodents run amuck through school buildings, yards

The Southerner

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By Shaun Kleber
Sometimes the softest sounds can be the most distracting, the most unnerving. Just a quiet scratching, the sound of small feet scurrying around on linoleum tiles, pulls senior Abena Amoakuh’s attention from her work on the Grady yearbook. Just when she thinks she is alone, she remembers the rodents living in the shadows.
This year, a rodent infestation has plagued the second floor of the Eighth Street building, with an unknown number of rats and mice darting through the walls and behind classroom furniture. Broadcast journalism teacher Thaddeus Roberts has been teaching in his room on that floor since 2004 and said this year was the first time he saw mice inside the building. Literature teacher and yearbook adviser Susie Mercer agreed the mice are new guests.
“There’s always been rats outside. That’s a given,” Mercer said. “But I’ve never seen rats in the building prior to this year.” She added that she does not know how many mice and rats are in the building but said that “if you see one mouse, there’s probably hundreds.” She first noticed the mice in September in the Southerner office attached to her classroom, and the problem has escalated since then.
“I thought, ‘Haha Southerner, they’re not in my room,’” Mercer said. “No way. They’re totally in here, and we’ve had them in a class with a room full of kids more than once.”
Amoakuh, a yearbook editor, said she didn’t notice the infestation until after winter break.
“When we came back, everybody started to notice rat poop around the [yearbook] computers and stuff,” Amoakuh said.
She said she believes the infestation is confined to the E100 hall.
Mercer has had several run-ins with the rodents. She had a couch in her classroom that she had to get rid of because she found mice living in it. She said she sometimes notices a mouse sitting in the middle of her classroom when she is eating lunch, and when she came back to school around 7 p.m. one day, she noticed one “just chilling” in front of graphic design teacher Patricia Kendall’s door.
“Last week I was here at 9 [p.m.] working, and I could hear one of them chewing,” Mercer said. “I used to keep pretzels in [my desk] drawer, before I found out they had eaten a hole in the pretzel bag and were eating the pretzels.”
Operations manager Phil Scardina said he does not know exactly what the problem is but hypothesized that the warm weather—specifically the mild winter—and trash from food have been major contributors.
“It seems to be a problem citywide, even at the University of Georgia,” Scardina said. “It may just be a seasonal thing.”
Scardina said students eating in classrooms, hallways and stairwells has created a trash problem that is difficult to control with limited cleaning staff. Mercer and Amoakuh agreed food and trash in the classrooms is probably the main reason for the problem.
“Teenagers are teenagers, and they never throw away their trash,” Mercer said. “They cram it in whatever space they can cram it, so I guess maybe we just reached critical mass with trash perhaps.”
She said because of the school rule prohibiting eating in class, students who sneak food do not want to get caught throwing it away and therefore hide it in any spaces they can find.
“We cleaned out the space next to my desk, and there was half-eaten stuff and wrappers and gum,” Mercer said. “It was disgusting.”
Art teacher John Brandhorst does not have an explanation for the appearance of the rodents because he does not believe anything significant has changed at the school recently.
“There’s no different patterns about eating in the classrooms or having windows open or anything like that,” Brandhorst said. “Ironically, last summer, they locked the windows.”
Amoakuh does not believe the infestation has negatively impacted the classroom environment because her peers make light of it, and Mercer agreed.
“It’s exciting,” Mercer said. “One runs out, and the kids yell. It kind of breaks things up. I don’t think they would say, ‘Yes we’re glad we have mice,” but I don’t think they’re sad we have mice either.”
In fact, Mercer added that she would not mind the rodents if it weren’t for the feces they leave behind.
“I think they’re kind of cute,” Mercer said. “They don’t climb on me, but I have to keep cleaning off my desk because there’s mouse poop. There’s mouse poop on the computers. That’s nasty.”
Roberts is also bothered by the unsanitary environment created by the mice.
“I’m constantly having to clean the surfaces off of these tables,” Roberts said. “Wherever they crawl, they poop. And that’s very unsanitary. … The poop is next to keyboards.”
Multiple calls and emails to the Georgia Department of Public Health about the issue went unanswered.
Scardina does not think the problem is having a negative impact on teaching and learning and believes some students “are making a mountain out of a molehill.” He is, however, making efforts to rid the school of the rodents.
“We’re trapping them,” Scardina said. “It’s been kind of quiet lately. We haven’t heard much lately. We had a run. We set traps. We had a company come out, an exterminator company come out, they set their traps. It’s controlled it [the problem].”
Scardina said the school cannot use poison for legal reasons but that the extermination process is “constant.” Mercer, however, said she has not seen any traps since shortly after the start of the semester and does not think the problem has improved. In fact, Roberts thinks the size of the rodent population is increasing.
Brandhorst thinks the creatures are at the school to stay.
“They’re perfectly designed little mammals. They don’t eat much, they propagate like crazy, they can move inconspicuously, and I think it’s going to be a part of any public building,” Brandhorst said. “It’s not a Grady thing, it’s universal.”
If that is the case, Amoakuh will continue to hear the creatures when they come out at night for the rest of the year.
“At night, if it’s quiet and you listen, you just hear little pitter-patters and rustling in trash cans,” Amoakuh said. “It gives me chills, jeepers creepers.”

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