School District of Philadelphia

Philly's Frankford High to Remain Closed Into Next School Year Due to Asbestos

'Frankford, we know this is disappointing news' School District of Philadelphia Chief Operating Officer Oz Hill wrote. 'We are working diligently to provide a safe and healthy environment for the school community, and we will keep you updated along the way with important information'

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Frankford High School 11th and 12th graders may never step foot in their school building again due to ongoing asbestos concerns inside the aging building.

In a letter sent to the "Frankford High Community" on Tuesday, School District of Philadelphia Chief Operating Officer Oz Hill wrote that Frankford High at Oxford Avenue and Wakeling Street in Northeast Philadelphia would be closed for the rest of this academic year and likely for all of next year.

"The extent of the damage identified at Frankford was unexpected, and we have been unable to quickly identify a nearby swing space that could be prepared in time for this school year to accommodate our students and staff, as well as meet all the programmatic needs," Hill wrote. "For that reason, Frankford will be closed for in-person learning for the remainder of this academic year. We also expect we will need to keep the school building closed next year due to the necessary environmental and other work, including HVAC, and repairs needed throughout the facility."

The news means that the 157th graduating class would not return to the school building, but could still graduate at the football stadium as planned on June 12, school principal Dr. Michael Calderone wrote in a letter to school families.

However, students will need to remain out of the building, Calderone said while calling the closure "heartbreaking."

"I need you to know that our number one commitment and top priority is for our students to have a safe, clean, and appropriate learning space where they can continue to learn and grow while the district addresses our building concerns and needs," Calderone wrote. "We have not and will not stop advocating for our school community at any point throughout this process. It is the right of all of our students to have a great place to learn and grow as young adults and we won’t stop searching until we find a space that provides just that."

Oz said the decision to close the school "is not taken lightly."

"Every day, licensed inspectors are working throughout District buildings to identify damaged asbestos, and we are often able to repair it in the evening when schools are closed, without having to disrupt in-person learning," Oz wrote. "However, there are occasions when the work to be done is more extensive, as is the case at Frankford."

Among the damage to Frankford High is the presence of asbestos throughout the building and damaged pipe wrap, Oz wrote.

The Search for a Temporary School Building

Frankford High students -- enrollment is around 900 -- have been learning virtually since early April, after asbestos damage was first detected in the building dating back to 1910.

For now, Calderone said a committee of staff, parents, students and community members are working on finding a new location for learning where all students can be together, are not sharing space with another neighborhood high school "for safety reasons" and that is close enough to the current building.

"As you can probably imagine, finding spaces like this are difficult in our immediate vicinity," Calderone wrote. "In fact, part of our rapid growth in student enrollment this year is due to the fact that most, if not all of the high schools in this part of the city are already over capacity and additional, appropriate spaces are hard to find.

Concerns About Asbestos

"This news understandably may raise questions about exposure," Oz wrote. "There is no way to accurately calculate potential exposure in a school, given the number of people, movement in the building, areas of damage, and the invisible nature of potential fibers. The presence of asbestos materials itself is not a risk. However, should you have concerns, please contact your healthcare providers."

Several district schools have closed at points the school year as asbestos -- a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion that we used in insulation, according to the National Cancer Institute -- has been detected in older buildings.

The school district has an Asbestos FAQ posted on its website that they hope helps answer some questions.

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