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May 12, 2023

Philly schools appoint executive director to oversee asbestos issues

Victoria Flemming previously worked as a consultant to help the district implement a new inspection process for environmental hazards

Education Safety
School District Oversight Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia appointed Victoria Flemming as the interim Executive Director of the Office of Environmental Management and Services. She will oversee the district's plans to improve environmental conditions in its school buildings.

The School District of Philadelphia has dealt with asbestos exposure at six different buildings this year. Criticism of the district has led to calls from local legislators to have independent authorities oversee the buildings. On Friday, the School District of Philadelphia announced that it appointed Victoria Flemming as interim executive director for environmental management. In the role, Flemming will oversee the district's plan to improve conditions across all school buildings.

"The recent discovery of environmental hazards at multiple district buildings has underscored the immediate need to develop a comprehensive facilities plan," Superintendent Tony Watlington said. "We are in the process of establishing a facilities project identify investments needed to significantly improve academic achievement that will closely align to the strategic plan, as well as achieve the board's Goals and Guardrails."

Flemming previously advised the school district with DeLuca Advisory & Consulting Services. As a consultant, she helped the district with its Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act management. Regulations under AHERA require all schools to be inspected every three years, with interim surveillance every six months.

While consulting, Flemming helped the district appoint Tetra Tech to manage asbestos inspections and data for the 295 district buildings, which revealed inconsistencies in the records of schools' asbestos testing. Plaster in multiple buildings was incorrectly classified as not containing asbestos in inspections.

"Ms. Flemming has played a pivotal role in implementing the district's new inspection process to ensure these assessments are executed with fidelity," Oz Hill, chief operating officer at School District of Philadelphia, said. "She has served as a valuable resource in improving the district's record-keeping process, which has increased accuracy and transparency on the condition of our facilities." 

In March, Building 21 school closed after asbestos exposure; this month, when the school was set to reopen after repairs, there was water damage that delayed students and staff returning to the building. 

Mastery Simon Gratz Charter School was closed for a week in March to remedy exposed asbestos in the building owned by the district.

Frankford High School and Mitchell Elementary were both closed for the rest of the school year after asbestos was found. 

C.W. Henry closed for asbestos recovery in April; the school reopened last week. 

In April, Universal Vale Charter School became the sixth school with asbestos exposure; last week, it was announced the repairs would close the building for the rest of the school year.

In March, City Council threatened to deny funding to the school district if it did not develop a concrete plan to treat asbestos in school buildings. "We're not going to just give you funding if you're not going to give us a plan," Councilmember Anthony Phillips said at the time.

Nearly all of the district's buildings were built or rehabbed when asbestos was used in floor tiles, pipe insulation, roof flashings and some paint and cement products. 

Under Flemming's guidance, the School District of Philadelphia will create a more comprehensive plan for school facilities and keep a better record of asbestos testing.