Petition: Demand Transparency, Collaboration, Accountability & Safe Schools from the School District of Philadelphia
Dr. William Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia
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!
“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 sinceshe 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)
Dr. William Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia
From: [Your Name]
We demand that the School District of Philadelphia be TRANSPARENT, COLLABORATIVE, and ACCOUNTABLE for SAFE SCHOOLS!
The health and safety of Philadelphia School District buildings started to deteriorate due to lack of funding, but it is actively being exacerbated by the School District of Philadelphia's willingness to ignore the voices of children, families and staff who have tried to warn them of dangerous conditions at schools.
In recent years the district has allowed hazardous materials remediation and construction work to occur in our school buildings while students and staff are present, without proper oversight and then has ignored warnings about unsafe conditions. The district has refused information to stakeholders, requiring families to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get basic information about the health and safety of their children's school building.
It is essential that staff, families and the district work in partnership to evaluate, assess and solve problems. The lack of collaboration and accountability from the district 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. The lack of transparency from the district 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.
This is a fundamental failure by the School District of Philadelphia, whose FIRST PRIORITY must be the health and safety of our children. We cannot allow this to happen at one more school!
We demand the following from the School District of Philadelphia:
- Testing: Untested areas and materials, including above dropped ceiling areas and debris, that will be disturbed by construction work must be tested for environmental hazards before any work begins.
- Remediation: All remediation and abatement work identified during testing, inspections and as part of capital projects must be completed when staff and students are NOT in the building. Any environmental hazards must be remediated and/or abated within timeline defined by district policy (maximum 4 weeks).
- Safety: A school specific safety plan must be provided to staff and families BEFORE any and all remediation and construction projects can begin. This plan must include a list of which areas of the building will be closed, a plan to accommodate displaced students and staff, a detailed process to isolate dust, debris and fumes from occupants, a formal process for staff, students and families to report unsafe conditions, and an outline of the responsibilities of the district to respond to safety reports. The plan must mandate passing air tests and detailed cleaning before areas can be re-occupied.
- Representation: Representatives of families and staff must be given immediate access to construction and remediation schedules and regular construction meetings, as well as attend a walkthrough after any remediation or construction work - before the area can be re-occupied by staff or students.
- Transparency: All information and documents related to building condition, including environmental issues, work orders and capital projects must be made freely available in real-time to families, staff, environmental advisors, and the public, and be posted to the school website. This information must be original reports and information by the licensed inspectors or workers creating the report, not summarized or edited information prepared by district administrative staff.
- Accountability: Updates must be made to families and staff at each stage of planning, inspection, design, remediation, and construction, including notification BEFORE any remediation or construction work is started at the school.
- Collaboration: A formalized Environmental Review Team must be created. It must be made up of a representative of families, representative of staff, an environmental advisor, and the appropriate representative from the construction and/or environmental departments. The team must meet quarterly to review building conditions, work orders, capital projects, and environmental and safety concerns at each school. The district must be a partner with HSA's and families, as well as the PFT and staff at all stages to be an effective leader and to overcome the challenges that our schools face.
The crumbling condition of our buildings and the remediation and construction work done in them while staff and students are present can have serious long-term impacts on their health and wellbeing. The School District of Philadelphia can no longer be allowed to work without full collaboration and coordination with stakeholders, including families, HSA's, staff, the union, and the PFT's Director of Environmental Science. The exclusion of families and staff in planning and decision making processes can not be tolerated one more day!