PHILADELPHIA, September 17, 2021 – Today, as City Council convened its first fall session online – shifted back a day in observance of Yom Kippur – Councilmember Derek Green (At-Large) introduced legislation to update the City Code’s guidance for issuance of special certificates of inspection for educational buildings, specifically focusing on standards for asbestos and mold. Due to recent concerns about newly discovered environmental hazards and other troubling conditions at schools like Julia R. Masterman and SLA Beeber, just as the new school year began, calls for immediate and permanent action toward sustainable and safe solutions have been amplified.
This ordinance would create a school safety advisory group and restrict the Department of Licenses and Inspection from granting a special certificate of inspection to any school building without thorough inspection for such property- and environmental-related hazards as fire, safety, electrical, lead paint, water quality, asbestos, and mold.
This afternoon, Councilmember Green held a press conference with other members of Council regarding this bill, which has also received support from members of the PA General Assembly, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and AFT Pennsylvania, SEIU Local 32BJ and other advocacy organizations like Children First PA, PennEnvironment, the Philadelphia Healthy Schools Initiative and others who are continuing to help raise awareness about worsening conditions in Philadelphia public school buildings.
“As the parent of a child in the Philadelphia School District, as well as the son of a retired Philadelphia public school teacher, I can’t begin to describe my feelings. As our children return to the classroom for the first time in 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain in the dark about what is really going on inside our school facilities – where our kids, teachers and faculty spend much of their time. My mother taught at Olney High School for 31 years and dealt with the presence of asbestos during her tenure, as my son also is having to do today as a student at Hill-Freedman World Academy. Enough is enough,” said Councilmember Green.
“We commend Councilmember Green for his attention to the school building infrastructure issues which long pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic and thank him for taking action. We strongly support this measure to include those most affected by schools plagued with toxins like mold and asbestos in building safety assessments,” said AFT Pennsylvania President Arthur Steinberg. “When it comes to toxin-free schools, students, parents, and educators have had to rely solely on the word of the School District who, for too long, have not consulted all stakeholders in its ad hoc process. This ordinance clarifies who ought to be involved and a strict timeline to ensure that our students and staff are safe in school.”
“From day one, Councilmember Green has been a staunch advocate for addressing the devastating facilities crisis in our public schools. As a founding partner of our Fund Our Facilities Coalition, Councilmember Green has stood with us time and again to not only help draw attention to the crisis, but to work with us in identifying real, workable solutions,” said PFT President Jerry Jordan. “This bill is an important step forward because it recognizes the importance of not only bringing stakeholders to the table to address the issues, but it also helps begin to establish real accountability metrics for ensuring that our schools are safe and healthy. I look forward to working with Councilmember Green and other members of Council on this bill, as we continue to fight for the schools our children deserve, and to which they are constitutionally entitled.”
“We shouldn’t have to mandate transparency from our School District. The only priority should be the children and not hiding behind bureaucracy,” said Saterria Kersey, President of the J.R. Masterman Home and School Association.
“Addressing environmental hazards in our school facilities is crucial to ensuring our young people grow up to be healthy and successful. Our students and teachers deserve safe spaces that foster learning and development. This is a critical issue of environmental and educational justice, and I want to thank my colleague, Councilmember Green, for his work on this legislation,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), Chair of the Committee on Environment and one of the bill’s 6 co-sponsors, which also include Councilmembers Helen Gym (At-Large), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Mark Squilla (1st District), Bobby Henon (6th District), and Cindy Bass (8th District).
“This legislation will ensure our public schools are environmentally safe so that our children can learn properly, and our teachers can instruct effectively,” said Councilmember Squilla.
An additional resolution was introduced today by Councilmember Helen Gym, co-sponsored by Councilmember Green and 9 other Councilmembers, for the Committees on Children and Youth and Finance to hold joint hearings on a plan to fund a comprehensive remediation and modernization of the City’s aging public-school buildings potentially through federal infrastructure investment and dollars allocated by the American Rescue Plan – a large sum of which is still being held up at the state level.
“For tens of thousands of families who sent their children back to school this year, safe and healthy schools are the number one issue. I am proud to support Councilmember Green’s legislation to expand safety and transparency in our schools. As we begin a new legislative session, I’m also committed to working with the full City Council to deliver on significant investments in schools,” said Councilmember Gym.
“Scripture says, ‘To whom much is given much is expected.’ I can tell you the PA General Assembly has received $2 billion in structural surplus and another $2 billion in rainy day funds. It’s time for us to deliver the money for children across the Commonwealth. We should not be talking about lead and asbestos anymore. The General Assembly must make funds available to remediate the problem in each and every school,” said State Senator Sharif Street.
The bill will be referred to the appropriate committee after which subsequent hearings will be scheduled.