Fiedler issues statement on the closing of Southwark School due to concerns about asbestos

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 27 – Following an announcement from the School District of Philadelphia last night that Southwark School will close for three weeks due to the discovery of dust that may contain asbestos, state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., issued the following statement:

As a Philly public school parent and a lawmaker, I am deeply concerned. Last night, I learned that Southwark Elementary will be closed for several weeks after the discovery of dust potentially containing asbestos, a dangerous carcinogen. 

“This morning, students and their families were given a very short amount of time to get their belongings from the school, including laptops, books and medication. Many parents were at work, which added to an already stressful situation. Parents joined forces to help get materials for students whose parents couldn’t make it in time. 

“Many of the students who will be home next week are the same students who faced an 18-month disruption due to COVID-19. Parents, alarmed that their children could have been exposed to environmental toxins, are now scrambling for information and scrambling to find childcare so they can go to work next week. Instead of focusing on helping kids grow and learn, teachers and principals at Southwark must now worry about their own health and the health of the children they care for.  

“I appreciate that the school district is addressing this issue — the work must be done swiftly and well, with transparency for the entire school community.

“Southwark is the seventh Philadelphia school to close in the last year due to the discovery of asbestos. These closures are the inevitable, predictable cost of decades of disinvestment in our school facilities. The physical condition of our buildings is a huge problem -- bigger than any one school -- that needs immediate and significant financial and logistical support. Pennsylvania has some of the oldest schools in the nation, but we also have the state dollars necessary to fulfill our overdue responsibility to remediate and repair them. Each day we choose to defer maintenance to school buildings is another day putting the health and development of our students and teachers at risk.

“We are no longer acting based on the fear that schools will crumble and impact our communities -- they already are.  

“I am in contact with school district and school leadership and with other local elected officials. I will do everything I can to help families and students resume their routines as soon as possible, and I will continue to work in Harrisburg to develop and advocate for a comprehensive solution to our school facilities funding crisis.”