School Buildings are Reopening but Where’s the Data?

The first 53 school buildings are reopening tomorrow for children for the first time in almost a year, despite ongoing concerns about the amount of information and up to date data that is not publicly available for parents to review. Reports on social media of filthy and mold-covered vents and classrooms show that many of the conditions of reopening have not been met.

We’re glad that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has provided public information about their “vetting” process, such as this excerpt that shows the criteria used to “clear” classrooms and schools for occupancy by students:

Screenshot of PFT document outlining procedures for “clearing” rooms for re-occupancy with added annotation. Source link:

However, we have not seen clear, up to date evidence that the PFT’s requirements marked in the screenshot above have been met. The PFT’s table of rooms that have been “cleared” for re-occupancy shows that some schools are missing many common non-classroom spaces (such as bathrooms, cafeterias, main offices, and nurses’ offices) from the lists.

There are schools on the list, such as Houston in Mt. Airy, that have fewer usable spaces than classes returning tomorrow and no common spaces listed at all, along with no updated ventilation report since promises were made about removing the window fans and retesting with improved equipment.

Screenshot of PFT report showing cleared spaces for Houston Elementary

Additionally, the documentation from PFT shows what some of the issues are but only for the first 53 schools, and it does not provide specifics about what has been resolved, and with what evidence. It doesn’t address any of the reasons that other schools have not yet been “cleared,” which means that parents are stuck waiting for updates, in a constant position of having to react with limited time and incomplete information.

Transparency Through Information Sharing

In line with our Reopening and Reimagining demands for COVID-Safe Building Reopening and True Community Engagement, we believe that transparency through proactive sharing of data and information is essential.

We would like to see the following measures from our Reopening and Reimagining Demand #3 implemented immediately:

  1. A substantive and robust Environmental Advisory Committee that reports to the Board and the City and is tasked with ensuring ongoing evaluation, assessment mitigation strategies, best practices for planning, and priority setting to improve facilities and address environmental conditions across all schools in an equitable way
  2. Proper planning for the relocation of students for asbestos/ lead remediation, contingency plans for delays/construction problems, and real-time progress monitoring dashboard for capital projects that includes access to up-to-date facility safety reports, work orders for major repairs, and documentation of remediation of hazardous materials.
  3. Updated Facility Condition Assessments, paired with detailed plans to address the issues within them that provided for each school and presented to the school community for feedback and input.

More specifically, we would like the following documents provided through a real-time dashboard:

  • 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

In addition, we would like this measure from Demand #1 to be implemented through a comprehensive, public-facing COVID-19 reporting dashboard:

  1. A clear COVID testing and contact tracing protocol that reflects the current best practices and up to date guidance based on new variants, and which allows for the fast release of data and information about COVID rates within and across schools.

There are a number of states and districts that provide COVID rate information in real time via online dashboards that could serve as good examples, with New Hampshire setting a standard:

We, and many others in our network, would be happy to offer our knowledge, experience, and assistance with making these requests for data and transparency a reality. We sent an open letter outlining these concerns and issues to Dr. Hite, the Board of Education, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. You can read it here, as well as see some suggested advocacy action steps at the end.