Since the start of the 2019-2020 school year, at least 7 schools have closed down in the Philadelphia School District due to the hazardous building conditions. If the SDP has been doing its best to repair the issues in the buildings, then why were the building conditions at Franklin Learning Center High School getting worse?
Ben Franklin, SLA, Pierce, McClure, Clara Barton, Sullivan, and Franklin Learning Center are all schools that have been closed down at some point during the 2019-2020 school year due to cases of asbestos found inside the school. All of these schools have reopened but their communities are left wondering if the schools are safe to enter.
Honey Polis-Bodine, a Medical Assisting teacher at Franklin Learning Center approached the School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education at their meeting on January 30.
“In the month of July 1976, a mysterious epidemic occurred in the Bellevue Stratford. More than a hundred legionaries became sick attending a conference. It’s an old hotel, old building. More than 24 people died. The bacteria live in the ventilation of large buildings–old buildings in particular–and it can be prevented by proper maintenance of the air ducts. FLC is not the Bellevue, but we are an old building. We could be The Bellevue.”
Polis-Bodine’s fears aren’t just hypothetical. She presented the board with data she had been collecting about the teachers at FLC. 29% of teachers reported onset of asthma and 33% reported getting allergies.
FLC Special Education teacher Kelsey Dietrich also registered to speak to the Board of Education at their January meeting.
“We’ve been told there are 60 years worth of dust in our ventilation system,” said FLC teacher Kelsey Dietrick. “Really that means those vents haven’t been cleaned since they were installed. I go home with a sore throat. I sit in my building and get random hives on my face, from what I assume must be dust.”
Jerry Jordan, the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, visited Franklin Learning Center before it was closed down to inspect various teacher-reported issues within the school building. He made it clear that there were obvious problems that needed to be addressed immediately.
These issues range from small things such as lights not being able to work in certain classrooms, to major ones such as water damage due to holes in the ceilings throughout the school.
“We need to deal with the small problems before they become large,” said Jordan,
On December 17th, district officials made the decision to close Franklin Learning Center after the discovery of asbestos in one of FLC’s two ventilation shafts.
The list of work to be done over winter break originally only included asbestos abatement but FLC teachers delivered a letter to 440 demanding that other building hazards be addressed before opening the school again.
One of the teachers’ demands were to “Fully test the ventilation debris being blown into classrooms by the heating system, and publish the reports to staff and families at least 24 hours before the reopening of the building.”
When it became clear that the district would not meet this demand, FLC parents organized a rally before the start of the school day on January 2nd. The rally received some press attention but the pleas that the school wasn’t safe anymore weren’t heard and the district did not adjust the school reopening schedule or provide any more evidence that the building was safe to re-enter.
Students and staff were told to go to class and the school day proceeded as usual.
Other communities tried different tactics in the face of similar circumstances. Like Elkin, where a similar rally was held but where teachers decided not to enter the building without proof of its safety.
Members of affected schools from around the city have not had all of their questions answered by the School District and so many of them rallied outside of the 440 building on January 30th before the Board of Education meeting.
Inside the meeting, Superintendent William Hite repeated that one reason why things weren’t getting done is the lack of manpower. However, the Board of Education voted to accept contracts for multiple companies to come and finish the work needed to be done in the school buildings such as Franklin Learning Center.
Franklin Learning Center is just one of the many schools in the district that need better resources to fix their building. Now it’s up to the school district to invest in their students’ future and fix these issues.
However, it’s unclear whether the additional funds that the district is hoping for will be spent to address the fears of the communities.
“We have health issues,” said Honey Polis-Bodine. “We need your help. Please, please do air quality testing.”