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April 29, 2023

A sixth Philadelphia school closed after asbestos exposure, City Council wants independent oversight of buildings

Universal Vare Charter School will shift to virtual learning. Students will be bussed to Universal Audenried High School to take PSSA tests

Education Asbestos
Universal Vare School asbestos Street View/Google

Universal Vare Charter School because the sixth Philadelphia school to close because of asbestos exposure. Students and teachers will virtual learning indefinitely.

A sixth School District of Philadelphia building is closed after exposure to damaged asbestos. Universal Vare Charter School which uses a district-owned building announced the indefinite closure of the building on Friday after asbestos was found in plaster above second-floor ceiling tiles.

Teachers and students will temporarily shift to virtual learning a statement from the school said. 

"Portions of the building are still being assessed and the complete scope of asbestos abatement needs will be determined over the next few days," CEO Penny Nixon said in an email to families of the school. 

The asbestos exposure was identified in the building at a time when students are currently taking the state-administered Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.  

Students who have to take math and science tests will be bussed to Universal Audenried High School located at 3301 Tasker Street on testing dates over the next two weeks, the school said. 

On Monday, C.W. Henry Elementary School closed due to asbestos. Students will have virtual through at least next week. 

In March the alternative high school Building 21 closed after an asbestos exposure. Students and staff were relocated to their own area on the fourth floor of Strawberry Mansion High School, however, virtual learning was also offered to students. 

Mastery Simon Gratz Charter School was closed from March 8 through March 16 to remedy exposed asbestos in the building owned by the Philadelphia school district.

Both Frankford High School and Mitchell Elementary were closed for the rest of the school year after exposures were uncovered.

As inspections of Philadelphia school buildings continue to uncover damaged asbestos exposures, City Councilperson Isaiah Thomas introduced legislation to have hearings about creating an independent school facilities authority to oversee the buildings.

On Monday Thomas is traveling to Harrisburg with councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks to advocate for state lawmakers to provide $5 billion over the next 5 years in schools across Pennsylvania.

Brooks created a petition for citizens to sign calling for the investment into school buildings across the state. 

"Pennsylvania currently has a budget surplus of over eight billion dollars - the highest in state history - with an additional five billion dollars in the rainy day fund," the petition reads. "That’s over 13 billion dollars in unspent taxpayer money. Investing a portion of these funds into school buildings will help protect children from lead poisoning and cancer, save money by preventing expensive crises like collapsed roofs, and create good jobs in local economies. By signing this petition, we are calling on our partners in Harrisburg to invest five billion dollars over the next five years to reverse the dangerous neglect of our school facilities and create good local jobs for working families. Doing so will send a clear message to all of Pennsylvania’s children: we value you, and we are investing in your future."

Brooks said that it has been over seven years since school districts across Pennsylvania have been able to apply for money for repairs and construction. 

Thomas who is the chairman of the education committee for the City Council has previously said that he would deny funding to the school district if it did not come up with a concrete plan to treat asbestos in school buildings. 

In January, the school district filed a lawsuit with the city over safety inspection legislation that could threaten the opening of multiple schools this fall. The law was signed by Mayor Jim Kenney in June 2022. It requires one-third of the school district's schools to be inspected for asbestos and lead paint and for the water quality to be tested by Aug. 1, with another third of schools tested in 2024 and the final third checked by 2025.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Jr. is expected to address school facilities needs when he releases his academic plan in May.