Testimony of Emily Pugliese to the BOE, January 30, 2020

Good evening. My name is Emily Pugliese and I am the parent of a 1st grader at Henry Houston Elementary in Mt. Airy. I am here to talk about Action Item #9 on tonight’s agenda. I am horrified by the environmental health crisis happening in our schools and, even more importantly, the way it’s being handled by the district. I have over 15 years of experience in the environmental field, so I have full knowledge of the risks posed by the contaminants in our schools. We are talking about our kids, our city’s future, being put at risk every single day just by going to school.

Almost 2 years ago, the Inquirer released its toxic school report exposing just how urgent and widespread the lead, asbestos and mold crisis was in our schools. Two years, and many of the schools listed in that report have been yet to be remediated and made safe. (I should mention, Houston, my son’s school, was profiled in that article and our school has had lead paint remediation. I have to wonder why our school, in a wealthier and whiter section of the city, was remediated so quickly while others have yet to be touched.) Instead, the District is doing things like spending $20,000 so an asbestos expert can tell us the risks of asbestos exposure, and downplay those risks. That money could have been spent to create a video to teach families how to identify and report unsafe conditions in their school. That money could have been spent to start identifying and creating open safe school spaces for student and faculty to use if their school needs to remediation efforts. In the grand scheme of things, $20,000 is not a lot of money when considering the work our schools need. But right now, every dollar counts, and that money could have been used in a lot more efficient and effective ways.

We realize this is a hard task. We realize this is mostly an inherited issue. We realize the district has been systematically under funded and under supported for decades. But there are actions that the School Board and the District can take to improve the current state of events:

  1. Adopt the asbestos best practices put together by the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative and the Director of Environmental Science and Occupational Safety and Health for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health (PFT);
  2. Adopt and promote the PFT’s Healthy Schools Tracker app for use by teachers, school employees, students, families and community members to report issues they identify in their schools;
  3. Create a few safe school spaces throughout the District for school communities to use if their buildings need remediation work;
  4. Communicate the process and procedure to handle environmental hazards to the entire school community;
  5. Work closely with the families and school communities to build trust and a create a partnership so that we can all work together to get the funds we need to clean up our schools.

We, the families, students, teachers, community members, board members and the district need to work together advocate for the money needed to solve these problems, not just put a bandaid on them. But first, the district and the board needs to take steps to rebuild the trust of the families, students and teachers. Thank you.