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Cold school: Students shiver through classes at Round Rock

ROUND ROCK, Ariz.

Kids can exaggerate, as anyone with a child knows. So when Billy Etsitty’s son came home complaining that his classroom at Round Rock Elementary was freezing, Etsitty didn’t think much of it at first.

But when he was still complaining after Thanksgiving break, Etsitty decided to check out the situation for himself. He was shocked.

“I seen staff with jackets,” Etsitty reported. “The most saddening part is seeing students with blankets in the halls and classrooms.”

The heating system in all but a handful of classrooms was not functioning. Staff had taped cardboard over vents to prevent the flow of cold air. Each classroom had a small space heater in it, “and the classrooms are (too) big for the space heaters to keep warm,” Etsitty said.

Etsitty complained to the Red Mesa School District’s board of education and was told, he said, “There’s only a handful of parents complaining and that’s not enough.”

A visit to the school last Thursday confirmed the worst. The school was barely warmer than the outside temperature. In the office, staff members were huddled around a space heater.
Students were in ski jackets. A few had wrapped themselves in blankets. A kitchen worker confessed they sometimes turn the burners on just to keep warm.

“Yes, it’s cold,” said Round Rock Principal Genevieve Begay. “I’m cold too. It’s not something I can do anything about.”

Begay said she has complained repeatedly to Red Mesa School District’s administration and been told there is no money because the district is still under sanctions from the state for an embezzlement conspiracy about 10 years ago involving the then-school board president, superintendent and business manager.


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About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.