Letter: Demand Transparency, Collaboration, Accountability & Safe Schools from the School District of Philadelphia

Write city and state leaders and urge them to demand that the School District of Philadelphia be TRANSPARENT, COLLABORATIVE, and ACCOUNTABLE for SAFE SCHOOLS!

In recent years, the School District of Philadelphia has proven their willingness to ignore the voices of children, families and staff who have tried to warn them of dangerous conditions at schools. This has led to children and staff being exposed to lead, asbestos, mold, construction dust & fumes in their school buildings and rushed by ambulance to the hospital. This has led to serious and chronic health conditions for students and staff, including a teacher diagnosed with mesothelioma due to her exposure to asbestos in the school buildings where she worked.

Due to The School District of Philadelphia's lack of transparency and collaboration, the Masterman HSA was forced to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about capital projects and environmental hazards at the school. From the information provided in response to this filing, the HSA learned that there will be two major construction projects starting this summer and continuing through November 2022 – more than a year while children and staff will be in the building. The HSA learned that there were at least 100 asbestos hazards identified by licensed inspectors at the school that families were NOT notified about. The Masterman HSA Environmental Committee partnered with the PFT and it's Environmental Science Director, who also serves as the Environmental Science Advisor to the Philadelphia Healthy Schools Initiative to offer a professional and independent evaluation and testing of areas of concern that the district was not willing to address, as reflected in the school district's statement: "(...) you are not authorized to come into Masterman to take bulk samples. Nor are you authorized to enter this property and conduct an assessment of the construction work. We have not agreed to any such coordination with the Masterman HSA, and we do not intend to do so." (...) "While we are committed to greater transparency and open lines of communication with our constituents to help inform our decisions, the District cannot and will not agree to share its decision making authority."

We must not let the School District of Philadelphia's absence of TRANSPARENCY, refusal to COLLABORATE, lack of ACCOUNTABILITY and disregard for the SAFETY of our children continue any longer! We must not allow the district to ignore our voices any longer. This is a district wide issue, and while we know the details about Masterman, we know this is happening at other schools – and we know it MUST STOP NOW!

To find out more about the environmental hazards and construction projects at Masterman click here.

To see the most recent asbestos inspection report for Masterman (with pictures) click here.

To see all of the files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act filing click here.

To volunteer to help or for more info, go to the Masterman HSA Environmental Committee page.

“Among the more startling revelations: Some staff members at Ben Franklin were hospitalized for breathing problems as construction dust swirled through the building during the work conducted during the 2018-19 school year. Concerns from staff, including the principal, were ignored. Principal Christine Borelli advised the month before school started in September 2019 that the building was not ready for SLA to move in, but those warnings also were not heeded. Two SLA students with asthma were hospitalized before the building was finally closed.Chalkbeat August 2020 (click to see full article)

“(Lea) DiRusso, 51, spent her 28-year teaching career at two South Philadelphia elementary schools with known crumbling asbestos that the school system had largely papered over for decades. It’s been nearly nine months since she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos.”

“It’s like holding a grenade in your hand, and you’re pulling the pin out,” DiRusso said. “Do people not understand that this is deadly? Let me tell you, it is.” Inquirer May 2020 (click to see full article)

“Day after day last September (2017), toxic lead paint chips fluttered from the ceiling of a first-grade classroom and landed on the desk of 6-year-old Dean Pagan”

“It wasn’t until Dean was hospitalized last November (2017) for severe lead poisoning that the School District of Philadelphia grew alarmed enough to finally fix the chipping and peeling paint (...)” Inquirer May 2018 (click for full article)

“The district maintains a stubborn resistance to engage the full range of stakeholders into planning and decision-making processes, creating costly outcomes like the Benjamin Franklin/Science Leadership Academy shutdown. These costs are borne by those inside and outside the facility, suggesting that we need a broader coalition of stakeholders involved, with governance, funding, and accountability beyond city and district leadership.” Inquirer July 2021 (click to see full article)

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