A recording of a school board meeting has gone viral after a Martinez school district school board member was recorded suggesting that a school largely comprised of low-income and Hispanic students could do without air conditioning while another school with mostly white, wealthier students should receive air conditioning.
The recording of Denise Elsken’s comments featured her saying, ‘I don’t really care how this comes out. I would say 95% of the students at Las Juntas do not have air conditioning in their homes. So whether that means those students are more acclimated and can handle a little bit more heat than the John Swett students, which I would say 95% of their residences have air conditioning in their homes …”.
Elsken was asked: “So, you don’t want to do anything …” She responded, “No, Plant a couple more trees. That’s all I really want to do. Maybe bigger trees.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported some of the context to her remarks.
Parents in the district had asked for air conditioning at the two schools, but existing funds would only support it at one school. Not only that, but the board as a whole had voted to install air conditioning at the John Swett school, which is mostly white, and not the Las Juntas school, which the poorer students attend. Most importantly, according to the Chronicle, John Swett teachers and staff put having air conditioning at the top of their wish list, while the teachers at Las Juntas wanted athletic fields and other programs first.
Another salient fact unreported in the video was that Elsken’s own children attended Las Juntas without air conditioning, and she volunteered there for almost ten years.
CBS San Francisco reported that Elsken has apologized for her choice of words, saying, “I’m sorry that was taken in a way that sounded discriminatory. It wasn’t discriminatory, it was fairly factual….It wasn’t that I think planting trees is the solution. It was just one option that we can use at this school…”. She added, “It’s not about Latinos, its not about poor versus rich school…I am from this school, I live in this neighborhood, I care deeply about these kids.”