Philly Announces Plan to Alleviate Asbestos in Schools as Another Building Closes Due to Concerns

Philadelphia School District to use about $12 million to improve environmental conditions inside 141 of its buildings as part of its 'Healthy Schools' initiative

What to Know

  • The Philadelphia School District is looking to alleviate environmental concerns like asbestos and lead paint in 141 of its schools.
  • “Asbestos is in a lot of our schools and it doesn’t pose a problem unless it’s damaged,” Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.
  • Pratt Head Start on North 22nd Street is the latest school building to close due to asbestos.

Nearly 80 children from a North Philadelphia school were displaced this week after asbestos was detected in the building's boiler room, according to a letter shared with parents.

The discovery was made while school district officials inspected Pratt Head Start on North 22nd Street as a temporary space for students whose school was over capacity or unexpectedly closed.

The school district’s Office of Early Childhood Education announced the building closure on Tuesday and is relocating students and staff.

Families will be made aware of their children’s new school placements by Thursday, the district said. The goal is to find Pre-Ks that are convenient for the affected families.

The district hopes to remediate the asbestos by the end of the school year.

This latest asbestos discovery follows closures at Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy, which share a building on North Broad Street and where asbestos was detected in September during building renovations. The district relocated 1,000 students to other locations as remediation took place.

Weeks after asbestos closed Benjamin Franklin High School, students returned to class in another Philadelphia location Monday. Questions and concerns remain for the Ben Franklin and Science Leadership Academy students.

Alongside the closure of Pratt Head Start, district officials announced they are using at least $12 million in operating funds and $500 million in capital funding to alleviate issues like asbestos and lead paint in 141 of its aging buildings. About 86,000 young people will be affected by "Healthy Schools" environmental plan, the district said.

Asbestos is a fibrous material that was commonly used in commercial products such as installation and fire proofing for decades, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

When inhaled, the microscopic particles from asbestos can cause life-threatening diseases including lung cancer and mesothelioma, the NIOSH says.

“Asbestos is in a lot of our schools and it doesn’t pose a problem unless it’s damaged,” Superintendent William Hite said at a news conference Tuesday.

The district stopped using asbestos in any buildings erected after 1978, Hite said.

Asbestos and lead paint removal could wind up increasing the cost of improving the buildings, Hite said.

The impact of the improvement could differ from building to building. Hite said he wants the district to be proactive in communicating concerns found in buildings.

The new initiative also calls for a "see something, say something" policy where students and staffs are encouraged to report any concerns and the district's Office of Environmental Management Services will follow up within 24 hours. 

"We are here to educate, but students cannot learn at their highest levels and educators cannot do their best work if they are concerned about the environmental safety of their schools," Hite said.

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