Philadelphia schools closed over asbestos safety concerns

Philadelphia schools closed over asbestos safety concerns

Two schools in the Philadelphia School District have closed due to asbestos safety concerns in the space of a week. Simon Gratz High School and Prep Middle School, and Building 21 High School have been announced as closed for at least one week while repairs and remediation are undertaken.

Students at both schools have switched to virtual learning or have been moved to another school nearby. It was revealed that the School District knew about the presence of asbestos at the schools but had not taken decisive action to remediate the sites.

Superintendent Tony Watlington explained in a letter to parents that “records indicate asbestos damage has existed in the auditorium since June 2021, and possibly longer.”

The school district has come under fire for what critics are calling ‘down playing’ the risks to staff and students. The Superintendent explained that “crews have conducted two types of air-quality tests that measure fibers in the air. All tests have returned results for samples from the auditorium that are well below acceptable limits.”

While it was hoped that Building 21 would reopen quickly, ShaVon Savage, the Philadelphia School District Deputy Superintendent, explained in a letter to families that the works required were more extensive than anticipated.

“Sections of the walls in the auditorium balcony, stairwells, and projector room require repairs due to the asbestos-containing plaster being damaged and flaking. There also is visible damage to the auditorium ceiling, and crews will be working to build scaffolding to access the area, assess the condition, and conduct any appropriate repairs,” she explained in her letter.

Asbestos contamination is an ongoing concern throughout public schools in Philadelphia. In the 2019-20 school year, 12 schools were shut down to address asbestos contamination, and since 2016, there have been more than 2,000 asbestos abatement projects managed by the School District of Philadelphia.

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