Continued Deficiencies in Reopening Safety and Transparency [Open Letter]

Dr. William Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia
Philadelphia Board of Education
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers


Dr. Hite, Board of Education members, and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers executive officers:

On the eve of the reopening of 53 school buildings, we are writing to share our concerns with readiness and transparency, and to request the proactive sharing of data and detailed information on facility safety, COVID testing results, and reopening progress. We want children back in school buildings only when it is safe, and it is your collective responsibility to do more to ensure that safety.

In our reviews of the information released by the district and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we have observed that there are still numerous holes. Parents are not being given timely access to clear, detailed information with which to make decisions about returning their children to school buildings.

Here are a few examples of areas in which we see urgent deficiencies:

  • Many schools have information listed in linked ventilation reports from the contractors that are not updated or reflected in the district’s ABR reports, making it hard to determine overall building status
  • There is no way to know when ABR reports are updated or replaced other than checking the folder, individual reports, and linked attachments
  • The Reopening Readiness Dashboard checklists provide no specifics about what each item means, only a binary checkbox with no evidence
  • There is no central place to find school-specific reopening logistics or plans, leaving parents to have to do the work of finding this important information before making decisions
  • Schools that are opening on March 8 do not uniformly have common areas cleared and some schools, such as Houston Elementary in Mt Airy, have fewer rooms “cleared” than classes returning with no information about bathrooms, the main office, the cafeteria, or the nurse’s office
  • There is no information available to parents about why other schools have not been cleared, or what work is being done to address concerns
  • Parents have not been notified as to what work has been done in their childrens’ schools while the buildings have been closed, including asbestos remediation and abatement projects
  • The conditions in some schools schools don’t appear to reflect the standards the district has shared, as evidenced by numerous photos of dirty classrooms (including mold and layers of dirt on vents) and reports of window fans still in place
  • There is no system for public reporting of COVID cases in schools

We would like to see issues like those listed above addressed proactively, transparently, and in detail. We have yet to see any urgency in your response to these types of issues, despite the fact that they indicate the possibility of harm to students, their families, and staff.

The checklist format currently provided on the Reopening Readiness Dashboard lacks enough detail to be useful, and the air balancing reports are confusing, with many missing updated information that is present in the linked reports or yet to be updated since the promised removal of the window fans.

We hope to see the following types of information shared proactively and publicly with parents:

  • Work orders for major repairs, construction, and renovation projects
  • Documentation of the completion of all repairs, construction, renovation, remediation, and abatement projects, including inspections and test results verifying safety
  • Documentation of remediation of hazardous materials including:
    • Room by room School Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act [AHERA] inspection logs from the first 6 months re-inspections following the 2018-2019 3 year inspections
    • Asbestos Abatement and Demolition/ Renovation Notification Forms
    • Asbestos Design Data Collection (DDC) documents
    • Asbestos final reports and all sampling data associated with asbestos abatement, remediation, and demolition/ renovation activities performed
  • Updated Facility Condition Assessments with action plans that incorporate school community feedback

More immediately, we would like to see a real-time dashboard sharing information about COVID rates within and across schools, and school-specific information about COVID safety plans. The New Hampshire COVID-19 Schools Dashboard provides an excellent example of what true transparency could look like, although there are certainly lower-tech and lower-overhead alternatives as well.
As founding members of the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative, we have been offering for years to provide support and input on these matters. That offer still stands.

Leadership, Parents United for Public Education

For more on these data requests, including examples of some reports of unsafe conditions and missing data, see this blog post.

Take Action

  • Request a tour of your school building so that you can see the conditions for yourself
  • Document any information you are able to gather about facilities conditions (whether through a tour or from your child or their teacher) using the PFT Healthy Schools app
  • Consider testifying during the upcoming Board of Education Public Hearing on March 18 about your experiences trying to find and verify information about facility safety and the reopening plans
  • Share our post and letter with your elected officials and your wider network