Philadelphia’s Filthy Schools Continue

Philadelphia public schools have a long history of neglected hazards and deferred maintenance.  For many years Philadelphia’s school children have had to exist and try to learn in conditions where the air is contaminated with mold spores, water fountains are lead contaminated, schools are unable to control the internal temperatures, asbestos exposures and rodent infestation issues. Two weeks ago we saw how another district, Monroe County, NJ answered the calls of concerns of parents and staff by closing Holly Glen Elementary for mold remediation in response to high mold results on October 4th. Three days later, and simply as a precaution!  all Monroe Township schools were closed for mold inspection and remediation.  They remain closed 2 weeks later to allow for a comprehensive assessment to be completed.

In addition, on October 11th, John B. Kelly Elementary school was closed to an emergent mold issue spanning 10 classrooms – for 600 square feet of mold growth. The scope of the mold contamination rapidly expanded to include some 3 dozen areas, and about 1000 feet of mold and impacts on asbestos materials and major ventilation concerns. Only the advocacy and push from educational staff and the teacher’s union prompted district officials to close the Germantown school for immediate remediation. Parents and staff recall the issues with mold at Kelly to be present between 1-2 years.  Parents report their children suffer sicknesses, asthma attacks, and upper respiratory infections similar to those reported by parents in Monroe twp.

711368104482106532-kelly-leaky-roof.fullAffected room as seen last Spring. The trash cans have been collecting what is leaking from the above pipes. Photo Credit: Greg Windle

There have been similar conditions at many other Philadelphia public schools. So, we have some questions for Philadelphia School District officials. This past summer, Munoz-Marin, Steel, Clemente, and Hunter had extensive mold remediation projects. What about the conditions at Kelly were not deemed bad enough to fix over the Summer, but necessary to close during the school year?  How many more schools are in the same condition as Kelly, but have not risen to the level of action by the district? If the conditions at those four schools were also a long standing issue, then why weren’t those schools closed for immediate remediation when the issues were first acknowledged?  In addition to mold, our students, teachers, and school staff are exposed to lead in paint and drinking water, asbestos, rodent and pest infestations, and lack of proper climate control within our school buildings.

One thing that parents in Monroe twp have to help them understand the issues at their schools is the actual Indoor Air Quality report for Holly Glen Elementary, which identifies the classrooms, the contamination, and problem analysis. The report includes pictures of the affected areas and damage.  In contrast, it is not currently possible for a parent to obtain the Indoor Air Quality test results or report of their child’s school in Philadelphia public. Unfortunately there is an enormous amount of data that is unavailable to an informed public with regard to Philadelphia public schools. The lack of information only leads to more questions:

  • How do we know how significant the damage was/is in the district’s schools? We don’t?
  • Is the damage here worse than in Monroe Twp schools? We don’t know?
  • Are our children at any greater risk by having them continue in school buildings with these conditions? We don’t know.
  • What is the district’s plan to avoid the situation in the future? We don’t know.
  • Are there any other schools that have similar conditions? We don’t know.
  • What were the specific conditions that highlighted the 4 schools for mold remediation and the 5 for asbestos abatement this past Summer? We don’t know.
  • Was the work done this Summer done correctly to ensure our children’ health and safety? We don’t know.
  • Was the money used to remediate mold and asbestos spent responsibly? We don’t know.

A high level of transparency is essential in getting our children the clean, warm, nurturing classrooms and schools that they deserve. To date, we have not had the level of assistance or transparency from the district that would allow parents to feel that our children are well taken care of in their school buildings.  

Sometimes things don’t change is because no one is willing to learn from the problem to make different choices.  

We are trying to make a change in the way the school district maintains and improves its school buildings. The Philly Healthy Schools Initiative is working towards: improving the amount of information and data transparency from the district, establishing an adequate building conditions and best practices to ensure a healthy learning environment, identifying and addressing the most critical health and safety priorities, and establishing a stakeholder advisory committee.   Our goal is to work with the district to achieve the clean, safe, warm, nurturing environment that the district states as its standard.  

We Can & We Must Do Better.

How you can help:

  • Parents and teachers collaborate to identify and report facility conditions that are unhealthy and unsafe. Teacher reports to the principal need to be carried up to the union.
  • Go into your child’s school. Visit their classrooms, and yes, the bathrooms. Look at the ceiling tiles, walls, flooring. Notice odors, pests and their waste. If there is anything that concerns you, tell the principal. Parents should also make a note of their concerns to make follow up easier. 
  • Read the Facility Condition Assessment for your child’s school. It can be found on the district website. All schools were assessed in 2015. It gives a snapshot of the school’s condition and a priority list of issues.
  • Contact us at
  • Contact Philly Healthy Schools Initiative for more information. David Masur:


Call to Action: Did your child experience significant teacher vacancies during 2015-16/ 2016-17 school years? Public Interest Law Center would like to speak with you.

The Law Center is interested in speaking with parents/guardians whose children were enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia during the 2015-2016/2016-2017 school years in special education programs that experienced significant teacher vacancies (List of Schools for Plaintiff identification purposes) and who were not granted compensatory education related to those vacancies.
This may include, but is not limited to, children who:
  • had a long-term substitute teacher (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) for their special education services; or
  • experienced multiple substitutes (or other school personnel such as counselors or non-teaching school staff) to address special education teacher vacancies; or
  • experienced significantly increased special education class size because one special education classroom was combined with another classroom.
We are especially interested in identifying children in the School District of Philadelphia who were enrolled in special education programs who: (1) experienced teacher vacancies during the 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 school years and (2) –
  • Did not have IEP team meetings; or
  • Did not receive any progress reports (as opposed to report cards); or
  • Did not receive the services mandated in their IEP; or
  • Made no meaningful progress or even regressed.
Please have those who are interested e-mail the Law Center at or call (267) 546-1313

The Aftermath: Time for an Emergency Procedure policy

This past May, there was a horrific bus accident involving eighth grade students, staff and parents of Charles W. Henry Elementary school. All 30 passengers and driver were injured when a car collided with the charter bus and eventually overturned on I-95.

It is understood that this was indeed an accident. However, everything that is done in the aftermath has to be intentional.

It was immediately noticed that the district did not have a plan to proceed with this type of emergency. Though a crisis team was sent to the school by the district, it was clear that there were minimal questions that would be answered. Parents and community members were roughly handled by this team, leaving most people extremely frustrated. Once the immediate effects of the accident had cleared, parents were faced with continued inability to get necessary information from the school administration, district administration, vehicle insurers, etc.

“While the immediate response of getting passengers triaged was difficult, once the dust settled the next day there was no word on how the PSD was going to help parents move forward with post accident support.” Linda Gordy, grandparent of former 8th grade Henry student 

It is understandable that there is a legal need to maintain a level of control at the school and district level. However, everything was flipped for students and their parents who now had broken bones, head and spinal injuries, laceration, and emotional trauma. Information was needed to assure than children would be able to continue medical, surgical, and psychological follow ups. Many children were unable to return to school due to lack of accessibility. It took 3 weeks for children to regain access to their education at home. When parents tried to figure out what the procedures are for their questions, they realized that Philadelphia school district has no emergency procedure policy for field trips. They were left to call one department after another to try to find someone who could accurately answer their questions and address their concerns. Many found it extremely difficult to navigate the system at 440 and resorted to obtaining their own legal assistance.

After the May 15th accident, parents were stressed with the primary concern being the well-being of their children; helping them walk, helping them remember, helping them feel safe.  The district made it clear that they could not provide legal advice, but they were unclear on what they could provide.  Parents should not have had to ask for accident reports, insurance, & driver info,  The school’s answer to “how will my child receive instruction when they can’t access the building?” shouldn’t be – “We’ll figure it out.”” Stephanie Clark, parent of former 8th grade student

In addition, it was extremely difficult to gain answers to how any existing safety plan information (Policy 705) would be accurately and comprehensively communicated to parents and guardians. We are still unclear of how safety information would be exchanged with students who have little to no verbal ability.

“Ms. Burns stated that the district has shared ownership with principals for implementing the safety policy.  In response to a parent’s question as to how information will be given to non-verbal students or students in need of other learning supports, Dr. Kolsky stated that the school safety team would be involved and that the information would be documented at the school level and kept in a safety binder as well as being discussed at Back to School Night.  I agree that these should be the proper protocols but what if that doesn’t happen at the school level?  How would you, the SRC, know based on these upper level administration responses whether parents have truly been informed?” Jennifer Aiello, parent of Henry students

At this time, there is still no policy in place or actively developed to ensure that the many mistakes made during the aftermath of this accident are not repeated.

Since May, parents have been testifying before the SRC to highlight the need of such a policy.

Linda Gordy,  (Grandmother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May 2017 : I-95 Bus Accident Lessons Learned May

Stephanie Clark (Mother of former 8th grade Henry student) testimony May and July 2017: SRC Board Meeting – 20170706

Jenny Aiello (Parent, Henry students) testimony:  June 2017 SRC comments June 15 2017

Robin Roberts (Parent, former 6th grade Henry student) testimony: July 2017 Emergency Procedure Policy testimony july 6

We are working with parents and community members to help the district develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

It is important that this policy incorporates:

  • A current contact list of the departments, point person, email addresses, and telephone numbers.
  • District sponsored services – like enhanced counseling or school based therapy services for students involved: duration, scope, and follow-up.
  • Documentation needed for children to return to class and school. Including an explanation of why this information in required.
  •  Plan to getting children back to education.
  • Use of alternate bus companies when an injury causing accident occurs.
  • Parent Involvement in selecting preferred supplier esp. for charter companies.

It is imperative to develop an emergency procedure policy for field trips.

“The children, staff, and parents have suffered through a catastrophic accident. Regardless, everything that happened after that had to be deliberate and purposeful. Corrective measures are necessary. If not, what child are you willing to offer up next time.” Robin Roberts, parent of former 6th grade Henry Student.


Philadelphia’s children need better access to breakfast.


SRC Testimony given April 27, 2017 – Access to Breakfast

Good Afternoon, I am here on behalf of Parents United for Public Education to speak in support of Access to Breakfast.

Of course, we do not agree with current White House administration who has stated there were not outcomes to defend free and reduced lunch programs in our nation’s schools.  The evidence is overwhelming that these programs work as designed. We only need to speak with teachers who know firsthand that hungry children cannot learn. We can positively affect the possibility of increased education ensuring that our children start their day with access to high quality breakfast programs in school.

Addressing hunger in our schools has been linked with improved academic outcomes, better diets, lower rates of student obesity, fewer visits to the nurse, decreased tardiness and absenteeism, and disciplinary problem.Image result for cartoon school breakfast

2015-16, in the place with the highest level poverty and deep poverty among large cities, Philadelphia’s schools feeds breakfast to 38 low income children for every 100 participating children (38%). The goal set by Food Action and Action Center is 70%. Nationally, districts that are exceeding the standards utilize the most effective strategies:

  • offering breakfast “after the bell” – having breakfast in the classroom during morning announcements, while attendance is being taken.
  • Grab and Go breakfast carts allowing students to eat on their way to class
  • Second chance breakfast –give students the option for a healthy breakfast offered after homeroom or 1st period when a student may not have been hungry.

There are several obstacles to participating in free breakfast programs including late buses, long morning commutes, tight family budgets, and stigma of those who get the “free food”.  Within our schools, there is a disconnection between the policy and practice of how access to breakfast occurs – and children suffer.  Children have to get to school early and may not have the ability to do.  In Philadelphia school district, it has not been clear that late arriving students have the opportunities to access and eat their school breakfast. That decision is left to the principals. It would be helpful for clear direction from district administration to ensure that all who would benefit from access to breakfast are able to. By incorporating breakfast in the school day, the stigma of “those free food” kids will be vastly reduced making it clear that all students wImage result for cartoon school breakfastould benefit from a high quality breakfast to get ready to learn.

39 Philadelphia schools are meeting or exceeding the 70% goal. A lot can be learned from the best practices set by school communities like Hackett, Muniz -Marin, Lawton, and Duckrey.

If the School District of Philadelphia was able to achieve the breakfast goal of 70 low income children fed for 100 children participating (70%), the district would benefit from over $2.5 million in additional federal funding. This is money that could be spent to preserve the Eat Right Now program and maintain the 10 dedicated knowledgeable nutrition educators. Or, it could help settle a fair and equitable teacher contract. How about that?

We are asking district administration to align policy and practice with increased diligence in prioritizing that Philadelphia’s school children are able to access breakfast and lunch programs.

Thank you,

Dr. Robin Roberts, PT DPT, MBA

Parents United for Public Education

Also see the research by Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) on school breakfast after the bell.



Addendum: Dr. William Hite asked for any information about school children who have not been able to access their breakfast. Please send him an email at: 


Parent Summit 2017 “We Are Not Turning Back-Education is a Right”

Mark your calendars….

Saturday, April 29, 2017 9:30-4pm
Saint Joseph’s University
5600 City Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19131

Register here for our 2nd Annual Parent Summit, a day of UNITY and Education. This summit is designed to empower family leadership in schools, unite families around the city and educate families on key education issues in Philadelphia and around the country.  Don’t miss out!

“A united voice has much more volume. It is going to take a city of united parents to tear down a broken establishment and rebuild for the sake of our kids. Simply put, we must get informed, get involved, get together and fight for our rights.” Tonayia Coffer

“Parents raising their collective voice show that we are active and engaged in the high quality education we demand for our children. Strong, educated, parent voice forces open secret deals and lights the dark intentions of corporate education reforms. We are here, we are fighting, we are not giving up on the excellent public education Philadelphia’s students deserve.” Robin Roberts

“Philadelphia children deserve a fully funded and fair education. Parents will not stop fighting until we have one!” Shakeda Gaines

“The voices of parents have always been important. But many times the powers that be try and silence parents into complicity with fear mongering and intimidation. When a collective voice is shouting with support from other parents, that is a powerful force against harmful reforms, tactics, and attacks.” Tamara Anderson