New footage documented by state lawmakers captured in 2018 and 2019 reveals crumbling infrastructure of multiple schools in Philadelphia.
In the video, there are mouse droppings on a whiteboard ledge, lead paint chipping and peeling off of an overhead radiator and pipes, and asbestos covering damaged heating pipes. The ground is flooded in classrooms, a cafeteria, a gym, and a playground. In one classroom, the ceiling is full of holes and tiles may have mold growth, while another has ceiling leaks into buckets.
The footage then shows how carpets are stained from leaks, and filth is found under furniture, with most of the pipes and other components in the ceiling corroded and decaying.
About 80% of Philadelphia schools were shown to have asbestos during the 2015-2016 school year inspection. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that asbestos fibers were found at 11 schools and unsafe levels of lead paint residue at 10 schools.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-PA) was one of the lawmakers who went on a tour of a high school and described what he saw.
“So, it’s raining,” Sen. Hughes said in the video. “How do I know it’s raining? Because it’s raining right there. We’re in the building. It’s raining inside the building. Help me understand why this is justifiable. Help me understand why this is ok.”
In 2017, a 6-year-old ate lead paint chips that fell off the ceiling onto his desk and got severe lead poisoning. In 2018, two second graders were hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning that came from construction on a leaking roof.
“This has got to change. It’s not fair to the children, it’s not fair to the teachers, they have to work in an environment that none of us should mandate our children be in,” Hughes said.
Of the 13 school districts surrounding Philadelphia, two-thirds are at least 25% whiter than and get 10% more funding than city schools — equating to an average of $5,000 or more in per-pupil funding.
One of those districts, Lower Merion is 60% whiter than Philadelphia, and students there receive $30,000 more per student. In Philadelphia, 86% of students are non-white.
“They are babies, and you are putting them in harm’s risk,” parent Felicia Thomas told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “If we were in another neighborhood, this would not happen, period.”
Democratic state lawmakers are calling for state funds to repair the Philly schools but have been met with resistance from GOP state lawmakers, who are refusing to release any emergency funding.
“We don’t need to go on a spending spree just because we have some uncommitted funds,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, in response to Hughes’ idea. “It’s that philosophy that pushed back against spend plans in the past that have brought Pennsylvania to the prosperous economic position we are experiencing today.”
Megan Lello, a spokesperson for Philadelphia schools told NowThis:
“The health and safety of our students and staff are our highest priorities. To ensure and improve environmental safety in our buildings, the School District of Philadelphia regularly completes facilities work and monitors issues to support safe and healthy school environments. However, we have also been frank that we face significant challenges associated with aging infrastructure, as the average age of our buildings is 70 years old. As a result, our efforts focus on regularly assessing areas that may be concerning, and proactively addressing areas that require immediate attention. There is $422 million set aside in our FY20 operations budget for facility improvement and maintenance, including $20.7 million for asbestos abatement and lead paint repair and assessments.”
Lello said that the district publicly declared its need to strengthen the environmental safety of the schools at the October school board meeting.
The school board said they plan on “thoroughly reviewing and strengthening safety processes and practices; engaging employees and the community in a deeper conversation about the presence of environmental concerns in buildings; having candid conversations about the capacity of our existing operations resources; and proactively engaging families and staff as partners in this critically important work. We are committed to doing better to ensure all students, no matter where they live, are learning in safe, healthy, vibrant schools.”