Parents protest asbestos threat in Philadelphia schools

By Chris Hoeppner
February 10, 2020

PHILADELPHIA — On the way home after work Jan. 17, I drove past a demonstration of parents, teachers and students from McClure Elementary School a few blocks from my row house. They were protesting elevated levels of asbestos at the school. I stopped and joined in.

McClure, built in 1910, has been closed off and on since Dec. 19 after asbestos was found in the air. School district officials reopened the school today, insisting it was safe, even though many parents and teachers objected. Asbestos inhalation causes serious lung problems, including mesothelioma and other deadly cancers.

Just as school was starting up, district officials closed it back down due to elevated levels of asbestos recorded in the air the night before. Parents had to scramble for child care at the last minute.

Other schools in Philadelphia have been shuttered for similar reasons. When McClure was closed in December, the Laura Carnell Elementary School was also shut down for asbestos. The Franklin Learning Center was shut the week before. Earlier last fall Pratt Head Start, Ben Franklin High and the Science Leadership Academy were all closed for some time.

Officials admit there are asbestos and toxic lead paint problems at 141 district school buildings.

“My grandchild goes here, this is a question for the whole neighborhood,” protester John Perry told me when I said I was going to write the action up for the Militant. “There is asbestos in the classrooms. They should shut it down if they can’t fix it.”

“My children were actually in there with high readings. That’s unacceptable,” said Chenoa Manley. “I want transparency, honesty and to put my children’s health first before your budget concerns.” Parents also demand that students be relocated to another school, not just sent home.

As we chanted, “What do we want? Safe schools! When do we want it? Now!” bus drivers, sanitation truck drivers and other passersby honked in support of the protest. Workers, parents and children from a day care center across the street came out and joined in the chanting, along with others from the neighborhood.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union announced they were filing a lawsuit Jan. 20 opposing the reopening of McClure Elementary until the asbestos threat is eliminated.