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Two More Philadelphia Schools Closed Due to Asbestos

Asbestos is closing two additional schools in Philadelphia, with one shut down for the rest of the school year. According to letters sent to Frankford High and Mitchell Elementary, plaster that had previously been cleared as not containing asbestos is in fact damaged and does contain the dangerous toxin. When disturbed, asbestos can become airborne and inhaled or ingested. These fibers can lead to a host of serious health conditions, including asbestos lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Frankford High was closed on Monday, April 10 and will shift to virtual instruction for at least the remainder of the school week. The damaged asbestos was discovered on the third floor of the building, and it is not yet clear how long the school will need to be closed. Frankford High is located on Oxford Avenue in Philadelphia, enrolls over 900 students, and was built in 1914.

In Southwest Philadelphia, Mitchell Elementary has more significant asbestos damage and will not reopen this school year. The young students were off on Monday and started virtual instruction the following day. Mitchell Elementary, located at 55th and Kingsessing, will reopen for in-person instruction later this month in a yet to-be-determined location. Mitchell has 339 students and was built in 1915. Asbestos damage was found throughout the elementary school.

Franklin and Mitchell are the second and third Philadelphia School District schools where asbestos-containing plaster was labeled as safe for decades due to incomplete or inaccurate recordkeeping. Mastery Charter Simon Gratz High School was also closed for a week earlier this year.

Building 21, a high school on West Oak Lane, was closed March 1. It is expected that this closure will be long-term. The high school students are still having virtual instruction while district officials explore alternate sites.

The discovery of damaged asbestos at Building 21 prompted a comprehensive review of district sampling records in other school buildings to determine if and where further plaster sampling is needed, according to the principal at Franklin High. New samplings at Franklin revealed that certain plaster walls and ceilings do contain damaged asbestos. When the Building 21 errors were discovered, the District Superintendent warned that more asbestos would likely be identified at other schools. An investigation into mistakes made at the Building 21 school is being conducted by the school system’s Inspector General.

Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and City Council state that the school closures highlight the need for both transparency and more investments in facilities systemwide. They expressed outrage and concern that students and staff had been exposed to asbestos for an unknown period of time. While the School District of Philadelphia continues to agree with the need for a facilities plan, an actual plan or sense of urgency has yet to be seen. City Council members have made their disappointment clear, with the suggestion of withholding district funding until there is a clear facilities and environmental plan in place.

Our attorneys at Shein Law advocate on behalf of those suffering from asbestos diseases. Call 877-743-4652 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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