Are you sick of our toxic school building conditions?
Earlier this month, a School District of Philadelphia educator was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. In Philadelphia 175 of our schools have asbestos, as well as other harmful building materials and contaminants, and educators refuse to continue to stand by while the health of our students, colleagues, and community are affected.
At this week's September School Board meeting, colleagues, parents, and students of the affected educator took the brave step of testifying on the need for lead and asbestos remediation for ALL Philly schools.
To show our solidarity with all our colleagues and students who have had their health affected by unsafe school conditions, as well as those taking the brave step to speak out at the school board, WE members helped to organize solidarity photos wearing respirator masks at schools across the city. Check out some of the powerful photos below:
As shared yesterday by PFT leadership, one of our fellow union members has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. There is a very real possibility that this exposure came from the teacher’s time in district schools.
How At-Risk Is My School?
As a part of their “Toxic Schools” special report, The Philadelphia Inquirer tabulated incidents of damaged asbestos and other health threats in all district buildings. 175 schools have some asbestos present in their building, and there are 46 schools that had 20 or more incidents of damaged asbestos in their building -- which increases the chance of exposure.
Is your school on the 20+list? Check this spreadsheet to find out.
This week, the School District announced a plan to study building use and demographic changes in Philadelphia.
While we recognize that studies like these are necessary to guide increased investment in our schools and prevent overcrowding of our classrooms, we want to ensure that the school district centers the communities of color -who make up the majority of Philadelphia residents and students- as they move forward with this decision-making process.
These studies will provide data that will be used to make decisions that will impact Philly’s students, educators, and families for decades to come. If our goal is truly to create vibrant public schools that support all students in our city to learn and grow, the true stakeholders in every school community must have power in this process.
In order to guide the district's "Comprehensive School Planning Review", we propose the following principles:
On Wednesday, May 15, the school district announced that more than 20 new buildings will be getting updated cooling systems. After over a year of organizing to improve building conditions in Philly schools, the Caucus of Working Educators is proud to celebrate this victory with all the staff, students, and community members who fought for air conditioning in every school building.
This year, rank-and-file members of the PFT organized to demand an end to toxic conditions in our schools. The petition below represents thousands of face-to-face conversations with rank-and-file PFT members. Over 2,500 members signed the petition demanding air conditioning in every learning space. Extreme heat in school buildings was a cause of several school closures last summer as well as a major asthma trigger. Asthma is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in Philly schools. The petition also demands lead remediation and robust pest control in every Philadelphia public school.
On Monday, 4/15 we are bringing 3000+ PFT and community signatures to City Council during their annual budget hearings!
Will you join us at City Hall at 4:30pm on Monday, 4/15?
Over 100 PFT members and allies will be delivering our "Heal Our Schools" Petition, and several educators will be testifying on the deteriorating conditions where we work and students learn every day. In order to restore the funding our schools need, we will demand an end to the tax abatements that could bring tens of millions to Philadelphia public schools. Click here to RSVP.
At the School Board Meeting this Thursday, WE members took a stand against top down policies that interfere with educator autonomy and the retaliation that takes place when they questions these unreasonable policies.
When educators in one area of the city started receiving demands to complete overly extensive and uncontractual lesson plans and reports, they worked together to ask questions and fight back. They wrote a public letter signed by over 150 educators from more than 10 different schools. They set up meetings with administrators. And when one of the educators was bullied by an administrator with unfair retaliation, they spoke out about these issues at the school board.
Instead of giving in to these fear tactics, their testimony was so well received by the board that Dr. Hite immediately approached them and asked to speak further on the matter. He stated to the room that, "this is policing and it will end now!". Additionally, a few board members along with Dr. Hite asked follow up questions to testimonies, asking about the extent of administration retaliation and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned. Dr. Hite was observed a few times shaking his head in disgust, hearing about the unnecessary obstacles we are facing.
When we work together to fight for our schools and students, we can overcome fear and win! Watch their testimony below, along with the community letter.
(Photo: Victorious educators from the affected network after the school board meeting!)
On Thursday night, PFT members and leaders in the Caucus of Working Educators were fighting for our students and schools at the February meeting of the Board of Education. For several years, Caucus members in coalition with Our City Our Schools, organized to abolish the School Reform Commission and fight for local control. Last night’s testimonies from WE members took place alongside students and community members across multiple campaigns that are fighting for the schools Philly deserves. The presence of this school board and ways that we continue to collectively hold the district accountable are a continued testament to the work, leadership, and local power of students, families, and rank and file educators.
Kait McCann, Jessica Way, and Honey Polis-Bodine testified against increased busy work, top-down lesson plan policies that interfere with educator autonomy, and retaliation against PFT members who are pushing back. Board members asked follow up questions to testimonies and wanted to know what the extent of district-level administrative retaliation includes and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned in their statements. Hite named publicly that this policing of PFT members and must end immediately. Read the open letter, read Kait McCann’s testimony, and watch videos from the video here.
These testimonies connected increased teacher bullying to increased attrition in our district. Proposed language in Policy 111, to be voted on by the Board in March, did NOT reflect the PFT contract. PFT members have been organizing against these top down policies all year, including circulating an open letter signed by 150 PFT members. When rank and file educators organize collectively, we can debunk fear and fight back.
On Monday, December 10 from 4:30 - 6:30, the Caucus of Working Educators is hosting a community meeting to end toxic school conditions.
As we have moved through this school year, it has become abundantly clear that our schools are shells of the learning institutions they could be. Our students deal with trauma in their neighborhoods and are then asked to sit in classrooms that further their distress. Many of our buildings are uninhabitable, from the lead, asbestos, and the crumbling, leaky ceilings to a lack of heating, cooling, and ventilation. In the neighborhoods, the gun violence and housing instability make the day to day lives our students even more treacherous; Philadelphia’s children are being asked to do too much! Collectively, teachers and parents have to demand better for our kids.
But there are steps we can take to get what schools need. Ending the 10-year tax abatements, demanding an increase in social workers and counselors in schools, and pushing for an eradication of lead and asbestos in ALL schools can be accomplished if we work in unison. We want to bring together people in the city who are ready to take action.
On Monday December 10th, join us from 4:30-6:30pm at The U School (2000 N. 7th street). The school is easily accessible via bus 3, 47, regional rail and the BSL. There will be speakers, snacks, and real ways to get involved. Click here to RSVP and share on social media.
Childcare will be provided.
Email us at [email protected] with any questions.
As an elementary school crossing guard, Kenya Cannon takes children’s safety very seriously. Everyday, she shepherds students across her intersection and into Cassidy Elementary School, where they should be safe. But over the past year, Kenya has learned that Cassidy Elementary School is not a safe place for students or adults.
Last spring, the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that Cassidy is “perhaps the most toxic school in the Philadelphia system,” with elevated levels of lead, asbestos, and other asthma triggers. The report helped her make sense of the serious asthma attacks her son had been suffering, and she decided to transfer him to a different school with a safer building. His condition has improved considerably since starting at the new school.
But Kenya continues to worry about the hundreds of children who cross the street and enter Cassidy each day. How is the lead dust and asbestos affecting their short-term and long-term health? Why isn’t the School District taking action to protect students’ safety?
Determined to speak out on behalf of the children in her charge, Kenya signed up to testify at the November Board of Education action meeting. During the first snowstorm of the season last Thursday, she braved the snow and ice and spent two hours battling traffic in order to appear at the meeting. Arriving just after 6pm, she found that the meeting had ended early due to the weather, and she had lost her chance to speak before the Board. Here is what she planned to say:
by Kathleen Melville and Tasaday Messina
WE have been making some bold moves lately - shutting down a City Council hearing to call attention to dangerous conditions in our schools, protesting the “phase-out” of Strawberry Mansion, and demanding that the rich pay their fair share to fund Philly schools. We do this because our students deserve much better than crumbling buildings and understaffed schools. And we do this because it works.
This past week, in response to growing pressure from Philly education advocates, Governor Wolf announced an additional $15 million to repair Philly schools. He also called for a major change in state education funding that would increase equity and bring more money to urban districts like Philadelphia.