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Dead mice are dispersed from room to room, and rodent droppings are scattered across the kitchen.
One would not expect such a scene at a school, but this is precisely what Brendan Dunn claims is the sanitation status at 82nd Street Academics, a private preschool located at 81-10 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
“It was an ongoing issue,” said Dunn, a former janitor at the school. “In the five months I worked there, I found up to 200 dead mice. Even more were found by other employees and exterminators. Some were in the kitchen behind the fridge, under the counter and in classrooms.”
While cleaning the kitchen on June 22, Dunn says he discovered a cabinet carpeted with mouse droppings. With classes still in session, Dunn immediately notified the school’s administrators, who he says did not seem the least bit disturbed or concerned.
Dunn was told the cabinet belonged to the Community United Methodist Church, which is attached to the preschool, and that the combination to the cabinet’s lock was unknown at that time. When Dunn persisted that the situation was a hazard to the students and faculty, he was advised by a school supervisor to cut the lock and clean the cabinet.
The following day, Dunn was asked to replace the lock he cut. He refused and was subsequently fired by the school’s executive director, Dr. Ronald Tompkins, a former pastor.
“As janitor, what came first was the health and safety of the students and everyone who worked there,” Dunn said. “The school is cheap when it comes to things the students and teachers need, but they’re not cheap when it comes to their own paychecks.”
According to Dunn, the rodent infestation is not the school’s only hygienic issue.
“My first two weeks working there, half of the plumbing in the school didn’t work,” Dunn said. “Toilets were out of order and overflowed, forcing children to walk in dirty toilet water.”
Dunn also says a coworker was instructed by a school administrator to serve students and parents food that came in direct contact with mouse droppings.
Tompkins insists that the school pays for regular extermination service and that Dunn was told not to cut the cabinet lock. He refused to comment further.
When Dunn attempted to reason with Tompkins and explain that he would be left destitute without his job, he says the pastor told him it “wasn’t his problem.”
After being fired, Dunn was forced to move out of his apartment and spent the following month and a half unemployed and sleeping on the couches of various acquaintances.
Dunn also claims he was owed money when he was fired, and when the school did not pay him, he recruited the aid of the Independent Workers Movement, an alliance of seven groups that fight for labor rights.
“We decided to go with Mr. Dunn and visit Dr. Tompkins,” said Daniel Rivera, an organizer with the Independent Workers Movement. “Tompkins is a pretty arrogant guy. He didn’t want to speak with Brendan, and he asked one of the employees to call the police. It was a simple labor matter, and all of a sudden we were being treated like criminals. Eventually a check was received from the school for Brendan. We are so happy to see Brendan fight back, because it shows other workers that it is possible to fight against these abuses.”


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