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New coalition wants to improve safety of school environments

Jerry Jordan at Healthy Coalition.
Darryl Murphy

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

In May, Philadelphia City Council members announced a multi-organization, citywide coalition to improve the environmental health of city schools and address such problems as undrinkable water, lead paint, asbestos, and mold.

The Philly Healthy Schools Initiative is a 17-member collective of organizations, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, PennEnvironment, Parents United for Public Education, Public Interest Law Center, and Youth United for Change.

Council members Derek Green, Helen Gym, and Blondell Reynolds Brown are also involved in the effort.

“Students, teachers, and other school workers have a right to feel confident in the knowledge that the school spaces that they occupy aren’t threatening their health,” said Green.

The initiative began after the Flint, Mich., water crisis. After City Council passed two bills in 2016 enforcing stricter guidelines on lead testing in schools and child care facilities, the coalition organized and created a list of policies to present to the District and City Council.

The coalition is calling for several specific actions from the District:

  • Improve the public’s right to know about health threats in schools.
  • Establish environmental health standards for school buildings.
  • Identify and address the most critical threats in school and remove them quickly.
  • Develop a districtwide comprehensive facilities master plan to set priorities and ensure that schools are safe.
  • Set up a task force to advise the master plan and advocate for increased funding.

In its response, the District issued a statement detailing the steps it has already taken to address these issues, including a GreenFutures Healthy Schools committee formed to ensure that school environments are safe.

Fran Burns, chief operating officer of the District, said that the District has made “safe, clean, and environmentally sustainable schools … a top priority."

PennEnvironment’s David Masur said the coalition next wanted to meet with the District to discuss the policies.

“Our position is a righteous one and people are with us,” Masur said. “So I hope they see this as the right thing to do.”

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