MARTINEZ (KPIX 5) — A Martinez school board member is in the hot seat over comments she made about the need for air conditioning in 2 local schools.

Some took her words to imply that students at predominantly white John Swett Elementary need it, and students at predominately Hispanic/Latino La Juntas Elementary don’t.

At a school board meeting Denise Elsken said:

“I would say 95% of the students at La Juntas do not have air conditioning in their homes. So whether that means those students are more acclimated and can handle a little more heat than the John Swett students — which I would say 95% of their residences have air conditioning in their homes.”

Elsken said her words got twisted.

“I’m sorry that was taken in a way that sounded discriminatory. It wasn’t discriminatory, it was fairly factual.”

She supports putting A/C at the more affluent John Swett Elementary. But when it comes to lower-income Las Juntas, Elsken said $2 million would be better spent on education and teachers.

She said “cool roofs” and shade trees at Las Juntas would keep students cool.

“It wasn’t that I think planting trees is the solution,” said Elsken. “It was just one option that we can use at this school.”

Rickie Webb’s kids went to Las Juntas. He called Elsken’s words offensive.

He said his kids complained the school doesn’t need more trees, it needs A/C.

“I used to volunteer in there and do a lot of work in the classrooms, and it gets really warm,” said Webb.

Elsken said the backlash hurts because she herself is not affluent.

“It’s not about Latinos, its not about poor versus rich schools,” she insists adding her own kids went to Las Juntas — with no A/C.

“I am from this school, I live in this neighborhood, I care deeply about these kids.”

The Martinez School Board will reach a decision on air conditioning for both schools by the end of the month.

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