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February 05, 2020

National teachers’ union calls for additional resources to address asbestos issue in schools

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is now weighing in with its own demands over how to handle the ongoing asbestos issue in many of Philadelphia’s oldest public school buildings.

Alongside the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) at a press conference on Wednesday outside of recently-closed Hopkinson Elementary School in the Juniata neighborhood of Philadelphia, the national teachers union’ called for additional resources to address the asbestos issue which has forced as many as seven city public schools to close this year.

Both the AFT and PFT are calling upon the School District of Philadelphia to hire as many as 100 trained union workers as part of a rapid response team to identify and eliminate asbestos problems in city schools.

“You have a teacher who has mesothelioma”, AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “What more evidence do we need that we have a public health crisis that needs to be solved in the City of Brotherly Love?”

“We cannot wait until the summer when you see tiles, when you see lead in water,” Weingarten continued. “You cannot wait until the summer to solve this now because it hasn’t been solved up until now. It has to be done more quickly.”

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite said in a press conference on Wednesday that he supports the rapid response plan proposal, with the only caveat being that the School District and PFT have to prioritize what hazards individuals are responding to.

Hite also said that he wants to schedule a meeting as soon as Thursday with district officials, the unions and the city to discuss proposals on how to address the asbestos issue.

Air quality tests are continuing at Hopkinson—which has been closed since Monday—as the school has implemented a temporary relocation plan in the meantime so that students do not miss more class time.

Wednesday’s press conference is just the latest round of criticism that the teachers’ union has levied against the School District over how it has handled the contamination of asbestos in some of the city’s public schools.

After the School District reopened Carnell Elementary School in the Oxford Circle neighborhood last month, the PFT said that the School District failed to follow testing protocols and that the school was reopened unsafely.

A week later, the teachers’ union sued the School District over its handling of the asbestos issue. In the lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court, the PFT accused the School District of failing to keep approximately 125,000 students and 13,000 employees safe from asbestos in its oldest buildings.

The teachers union’s demands in the complaint included the performance of inspections in every Philadelphia school, working together with the PFT to come up with a court-approved plan that protects both students and staff from asbestos, and conducting all inspections with the involvement and consent of the teachers’ union with the expectation that the PFT can access all results and reports.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called for a $1 billion investment into cleaning up asbestos and lead in aging public school buildings during his annual state budget proposal in Harrisburg on Tuesday.