Collective action required to protect students and communities from toxic schools
Hearing examines health of school buildings, identifies improvements
PHILADELPHIA, April 5 - It’s long overdue that schools statewide receive necessary upgrades for the health and safety of students and staff. Today’s meeting of the House Democratic Policy Committee’s Subcommittee on Progressive Policies for Working People highlighted the current state of our schools.
Subcommittee Chair Elizabeth Fiedler hosted the hearing that brought together students, educators, design experts and labor leaders to discuss the implications of inaction and benefits of investment in school safety.
“School conditions are students’ learning conditions and working conditions for teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and staff. We need to fix the toxic conditions in our schools by remediating and removing lead, mold, asbestos and rodents, and need to invest in the 21st century school buildings our children and communities deserve,” Fiedler said. “This hearing brought together experts in the field, union labor and impacted students to discuss the current problems, the areas for investment and growth, and the importance of acting now.”
‘Toxic schools’ are school buildings, or parts of school buildings, where hazardous environmental conditions, such as damaged and accessible asbestos, lead contamination of paint and water, and mold present unacceptable levels of risk.
Testimony from Dr. Akira Drake Rodriguez, assistant professor at the University of Penn Weitzman School of Design, explained that the remediation and removal of all toxins from our 215 public school facilities is necessary, but has experienced challenges because of the lack of coordination between school stakeholders at the local level. She explained the issue could be solved with leadership from the state and distribution of American Rescue Plan funds to address the issues. Lawmakers learned that because of a lack of investment and organizing to address these issues, some schools in the Commonwealth are in a state of serious disrepair.
“We learned today that a quarter of Philadelphia students have asthma because of poor air quality, and that’s made worse by the state of our schools where they are learning,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton. “It’s time that we work as a legislature to have mold, asbestos, vermin, lead and other toxins removed from our schools. Maintaining these buildings would improve lives, and result in hundreds of good union jobs.”
Lawmakers also heard testimony from labor leaders who shared that maintaining buildings would not just help students, but would also employ thousands of Pennsylvanians who would be focused on making safe learning environments for all students.
Written testimony and information about PA House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.