Parents of children attending the Edwin Forrest Elementary School say their kids had two days of school with little to no instruction and -- for a period of time -- no heat, while the city was experiencing the lowest temperatures in decades.
The elementary school located in the northeast section of the city has two buildings. The main building houses 2nd through 5th grade classrooms, and the Primary Education Center (PEC) building houses the school's youngest students in pre-k through 2nd grade.
According to a Jan. 7 letter signed by the school's principal Camara Wilson, the school administration was aware that the heat was not working in the PEC building at approximately 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, but did not notify parents until the end of the school day that afternoon.
The temperature only reached a high of 13 degrees on Tuesday, well below the record of 20 degrees set back in 1994. Wind chills made it feel even colder -- with wind gusts dropping temperatures into sub-zero territory.
Alyssa Domico, whose daughter attends first grade at the school, says she received the letter when she picked up her daughter from school yesterday. She's upset that the school did not inform parents of the problem right away.
"I dropped her off yesterday not knowing anything about the heat not working. I am furious that I sent my children to school yesterday -- one who is in the PEC building which had no heat for the past two days -- and I didn't get a phone call or anything informing me that there was no heat," Domico said. "It's -15 degrees outside, which means it's probably 30 degrees, if that, in the building and no one informs me. This situation is frustrating."
According to the letter, students in the PEC building were moved into classrooms in the main building where the heat was still working at around 9:30 a.m. yesterday; which means students may have spent as long as two hours in the cold PEC building.
Once students arrived in the main building, parents say they were placed in overcrowded classrooms and instead of having a full day of instruction, students watched movies for the remainder of the day.
"I picked her up and found out she spent the day in the big building watching movies," Domico said.
Parent Theresa Sperduto says her daughter, who attends second grade at the school, also watched movies during class time today.
Another parent, Deinna Davalos said she spoke with Wilson at length today and said he admitted that the situation could have been handled better.
"I was in the office on Tuesday when it was -17 degrees out and it was a mess for these kids, and parents and teachers," Davalos said.
"I spoke to the principal for about an hour and he did admit that he should have done more to let parents know about it, but he said that the School District was notified yesterday that there was no heat and they chose to keep the school open anyway."
Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard says the District typically opts to keep students at school in order to not inconvenience parents who may be unable to pick their children up on short notice.
"That is unfortunately one of the things that occurs when you have to shut down a building, they don't get to have a full day of instruction," Gallard said. "But if we can provide a place for students to be housed, to be warmed, and to be fed, and to have some level of instruction, then we would prefer to do that."
As of this evening, parents said they were still unsure as to whether the heat would be fixed in time for tomorrow's classes because they had not received any updated communications from the principal.
According to Gallard, the school's broken furnace has been fixed.
"The repairs have been accomplished," he said. "It was a boiler that broke down at the 'little house' and that was finalized and repaired today, and will be fine for tomorrow."