AN EMAIL AND A RESPONSE:
Subject: Philadelphia School District’s Representation on Al Jazeera America
Dear Ms. Floyd,
I had the opportunity to watch your appearance on Al Jazzeera America last week in response to the reports of lead based paint, exposed asbestos, mold, rodents, and myriad other hazardous conditions in our Philadelphia public schools.
You stated, “It’s hard to make direct connections between some of the things that are occurring in our buildings (lead/asbestos/mold) to whether or not there are immediate health risks to students, given that there are other environments they are exposed to outside of the school building”
Ms. Floyd, I realize that you are not a health professional or a scientist. But it is public knowledge that there is not a shed of scientific doubt these things are seriously harmful to all people, with children being the most vulnerable. In addition to the scientific evidence, you may wish to speak to a parent with lead poisoned children, or perhaps the parents of Laporshia Massey, whose fatal asthma attack was most assuredly aggravated by spending more than 30 hours each week in a classroom with “extensive, long-term damage and deterioration from persistent dampness and moisture,” damaged paint that is likely lead-based, and widespread dust and debris.”
While I am sympathetic to the school district’s financial dilemma from the continued underfunding and systematic neglect of our schools by the state, I find your comments to be unacceptable and bordering on unlawful. To refer to these building conditions as anything less than criminally hazardous is unacceptable, and, quite frankly, a horrific embarrassment. You even go one step further to imply that these children’s outside living conditions may be the same or even worse. This is offensive, insulting, and appalling.
I don’t believe there is a citizen in all of Philadelphia who would not like to abolish the School Reform Commission and bring the schools back under city control. But until that day comes, it is the responsibility of the School District to do everything in their albeit limited power to make sure our schools are, at the very least, safe places for our children.
You have publicly and nationally made light of an issue, which is not only immoral and unconscionable, it is illegal – breaking both building codes and the constitutional right for public education in a safe space.
You see, Ms. Floyd, when children like my son are not given full school resources for language, art, music, athletics, or other educational activities, I am fortunate enough to be able to supplement them in my home or with outside sources. When he is offered reheated prison food and chocolate milk on a Styrofoam tray, I am lucky enough to be able to refuse this and send him with his own nutritious lunch. By the grace of God my elementary school is staffed with a full time nurse who has come to the aid of my child’s asthma attacks several times this year.
I am one of the lucky ones.
However, I am entirely powerless to repair mold, asbestos, lead, rodents, and fire hazards. As much as I would like to find a way to protect my children from these deplorable hazards, even all the money in the world would not grant me access past the red tape bureaucracy.
Worse yet, I have absolutely no idea what the specific hazards may be at my son’s school, as McCall Elementary was not one of the schools explored by the city controller’s office. The district has refused to make public the findings of a 2012 study by the PFT Health and Welfare Fund and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and blocked further investigation despite the fact that it would not cost the district a penny. The lack of transparency is appalling and defies a parent’s right to know about the safety of their children’s public schools.
Ms. Floyd, I certainly do not hold you solely responsible for the conditions of Philadelphia Public Schools nor the supposed lack of resources to repair them. You are simply a cog in a terribly antiquated and broken machine that you have no means to fix entirely on your own.
But what you do have, with years of tenure at the Philadelphia School District, is a position of power. And, more importantly, a voice that can speak loud and clear and publicly, demanding more resources and fiercely fighting for our children’s rights to schools that wont make them sick.
But instead, on national public television, you made light of this. You dismissed clear scientific data. You dismissed the fact that almost every child I know carries an inhaler and an epipen. You dismissed my friends’ children who were lead poisoned. You dismissed thousands of people who have died from mesothelioma from asbestos poisoning.
You dismissed my children.
And for that reason I will be sharing this letter with other concerned parents, hoping that the next time a national broadcast comes around – or any opportunity for you to speak – you will use your voice of power to bring mandatory change.
Thank you for your feedback.
Office of Capital Programs
School District of Philadelphia
NOTE: I just want to note that while my letter points out the severe problems in the district, our schools do still continue to thrive despite these setbacks. My son is doing amazing in kindergarten with wonderful teachers and parents. But, again, we are lucky to be in a school with so much parental involvement and wonderful teachers to make it amazing. We just have to fight a lot harder….and I have chosen to stay and fight.