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January 21, 2020

Philadelphia teachers’ union files lawsuit against School District over asbestos issue

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in Commons Pleas Court

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) filed a lawsuit on Monday against the School District of Philadelphia over the district’s handling of the persistent asbestos problem in some of the city’s oldest school buildings.

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.

“From start to finish, the district’s egregious missteps have shown a disregard for the health of my members and our students,” PFT President Jerry Jordan said on Monday. “Not only is the process by which the district deals with known hazards extraordinarily flawed, but also, from the start, they are missing even identifying extremely hazardous conditions.”

The complaint was filed in Common Pleas Court on Monday, and it seeks “immediate relief” in that it asks a judge to force the School District to agree to the PFT’s requests. Those demands include the performance of inspections of all schools in Philadelphia, 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.

The teachers’ union lawsuit comes just three days after the School District closed McClure Elementary in the Hunting Park neighborhood of North Philadelphia this past Friday for additional cleaning. The school had reopened last Wednesday after being closed for three weeks due to asbestos treatment, but tests last Thursday night revealed air samples were “slightly elevated” with asbestos levels.

This is not the first time that the teachers’ union has sharply criticized the School District for its handling of the asbestos issue. The PFT shared its concern in a press release this past Thursday, when it stated that the School District failed to follow best practice protocols during the abatement and remediation of McClure.

McClure Elementary is slated to remain closed this entire week.

The PFT also said that the School District failed to follow testing protocols before reopening Carnell Elementary School in the Oxford Circle neighborhood of North Philadelphia last Monday. The teachers' union claims that the school was reopened unsafely.

The School District said in a statement last Friday that it’s been working with the PFT since November "to finalize a document outlining processes and protocols” as well as “to suggest edits and sign off on the proposal."

"We eagerly await the PFT’s approval so that agreed-upon procedures are in place moving forward," the School District said. 

“The district worked with PFT to ensure the building was safe for re-occupancy when students and staff returned on January 15, with both parties agreeing to reopen," school officials continued. "And we will continue to work with the PFT as we move forward. We are committed to meeting all safety standards, even aggressive ones exceeding legal requirements. And we look forward to welcoming students and staff back to McClure once cleaning is complete so that they can return to teaching and learning."