Hey! Ho! Toxic Schools Have Got To Go!

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO was proud to join our sisters and brothers from Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Local 3 and the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO at the Fund Our Facilities Rally in the Capitol Rotunda, on December 18. The PFT Local 3 founded the Fund Our Facilities coalition to advocate for safe and healthy classrooms for their students. Right now, asbestos, lead and rodents have all been found in dilapidated school buildings throughout the district. Four schools have been shutdown due to unsafe asbestos exposure.

Now a fifth school, Carnell Elementary, has been identified for closure due to the imminent threat of exposure to asbestos. This week, PFT Local 3 President Jerry Jordan released the following statements:

DECEMBER¬†19¬†—For the second time this week, the School District discovered imminent asbestos toxins endangering the health and safety of schoolchildren and educators. The PFT was alerted this morning by the District’s environmental team of the discovery of asbestos hazards at Laura Carnell Elementary School, and PFT Health & Welfare Fund’s environmental scientist Jerry Roseman reported to the site to conduct a walkthrough and initial assessment. Not only was Jerry Roseman able to verify the imminent hazards identified by the district, he identified at least one additional severe hazard and potentially many more.

The PFT has urged the District to immediately work on a closure and relocation plan until we have data to assure us that the building at large is safe for occupancy. The Federation must be involved in next steps and must have access to all evaluation results. Inspection is underway this evening, and we look forward to receiving timely results.

Included in the observed hazards are crushed asbestos tiles in a maintenance closet and a staff bathroom containing severely damaged and unsafe asbestos insulation. In addition, imminent hazards were discovered in at least one classroom, to the point that our environmental scientist was unable to fully complete his evaluation, as he needed a protective respirator to do so. The PFT has recommended evaluation of at least eight other classrooms in the building due to concerns reported by teachers.

Upon the District’s confirmation of the hazards on Wednesday evening, the Federation should have been immediately notified. While the District has made efforts to promote open communication on these hazards, the unsystematic way the process has occurred is unacceptable.

PFT President Jerry Jordan noted, “Our members and families have submitted 1,596 concerns to our Healthy Schools Tracker App. Every step of the way, the Federation has been pushing for structural change to District operations in how they approach the facilities catastrophe unfolding in our schools. While we are making progress on some fronts, the situation at Carnell is deeply disturbing, as it once again reflects the urgent need for facilities investment but also the critical changes that are necessary in the identification and remediation processes.”

DECEMBER 17 —“The School District of Philadelphia made the correct decision in closing FLC due to the discovery of an imminent asbestos hazard in the heating shafts. I recently toured the school to see firsthand the environmental concerns reported by our members. Following my visit, I spoke with Dr. Hite to urge immediate action.

“The situation at FLC is emblematic of the emergency conditions in far too many of our school buildings. Today’s discovery reflects both the progress we have made and the deeply flawed system in which we are operating. For the first time in recent memory, the District quickly reported to us the discovery of an immediate environmental hazard and committed to collaborate with us on a plan for swift remediation. However, it is problematic that our recommendation to conduct this assessment was made months ago, and only just took place.

“Further, the sheer volume of reported concerns from FLC on our app is extremely troubling. Over the past seven months, there have been over fifty submissions from FLC staff members to our Healthy Schools Tracker App, and only one reported as resolved by the District. Reported problems include asbestos concerns, mold and mildew, crumbling walls and damaged lead paint, and thermal control deficiencies. These issues are serious and require thorough and immediate remediation.

“Let me be clear: the District’s response today was the right one. It stands in stark contrast to the response at TM Peirce School, and it is hopefully indicative of lessons learned. However, for too long, our students and faculty at FLC have been exposed to potentially life-threatening conditions. Further, the asbestos remediation efforts that will soon be underway will address only a fraction of the concerns we have with the learning and working conditions within the building.

“Due to decades of systemic disinvestment in our schools, educators and students are mandated to work and learn in environments that can quite literally poison them. We are, once again, calling for the immediate investment of $100 Million for district-wide lead and asbestos remediation. Our union has led the fight for safe, healthy schools, and today is another devastating reminder of why we are fighting so hard.”