·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Philadelphia Public Schools Sued by Teachers Union Over Growing Asbestos Issue

— February 5, 2020

The union representing teachers working in Philadelphia public schools is suing the district over allegations that the district has failed to remedy a growing asbestos issue that may be putting the health of teachers and students at risk.

The Philadelphia public school teachers union is suing the district over claims that it failed to protect thousands of students and employees from asbestos hazards in some of its older school buildings. In total, the suit estimates that about 125,000 students and 13,000 employees may have been exposed to asbestos. As a result, the district has been forced to close six schools “because of damaged asbestos that environmental inspectors had either missed or the district failed to repair or remove.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is the oldest of the four vehicular bridges connecting Philadelphia to South Jersey
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is the oldest of the four vehicular bridges connecting Philadelphia to South Jersey; image courtesy of Kevin Burkett via Wikimedia Commons,

While discussing the matter, union president Jerry Jordan said:

“From start to finish, the district’s egregious missteps have shown a disregard for the health of my members and our students. Not only is the process by which the district deals with known hazards extraordinarily flawed, but also, from the start, they are missing even identifying extremely hazardous conditions.”

According to the lawsuit, many of the district’s school buildings contain asbestos. Typically asbestos isn’t considered dangerous as long as it is kept in good condition. However, for years the district has struggled to “stay on top of cracked or crumbling asbestos material,” upsetting parents and staff concerned about the potential health risks associated with asbestos exposure.

One parent, Stefanie Marrero, finally got fed up with the district’s inaction and has kept her three children home from Richmond Elementary since November because she is concerned about their health. As a result, she received a letter from the district warning her that “it can take her to Truancy Court, citing her children’s illegal absences.” Marrero said:

“Education is important, but I’m sorry that my children’s health is more important. You know, the school district threatened us with truancy, and they want to report us to the Department of Human Services, but who do we report them to for neglecting our children? That’s neglect.”

As part of the recent lawsuit, union leaders, teachers, and parents are asking a judge to order the district to do the following:

  • Perform periodic and systematic inspections of all schools where they know or should have known about environmental hazards.
  • Work directly with the union to come up with a written, comprehensive, court-approved plan that best protects students and staff from asbestos.
  • Refrain from conducting asbestos inspections or testing without the involvement of the union, which would have immediate access to all asbestos reports and lab results.

The suit further states:

“The district has acknowledged that its schools’ conditions are hazardous and has developed district-wide health and safety standards applicable to asbestos testing and remediation. However, [the district] has failed to comply with its own standards, despite years of complaints from the union as well as teachers, staff, and students who occupy district buildings.”

In response to the allegations, officials for the district said they have and are continuing to comply with federal laws.


Teachers union sues Philadelphia schools over asbestos hazards

‘We are not crying wolf’: Philly teachers union to sue district over asbestos, other hazards

Join the conversation!