Testimony of Laurie Mazer to the BOE, October 17, 2019

Hi, again, I am Laurie Mazer a parent of 2 public school students at Jackson elementary and part of the leadership teams of both Parents United for Public Education and Philly Healthy Schools Initiative (PHSI).  I have been here before, and I know my face is familiar to you and I also know there can be a tendency to discount some of us “frequent flyers” here. But I would ask you to listen to my testimony with the idea that I keep coming back because I don’t feel my voice is being heard and I think that we are putting student, teacher and staff lives in danger, so I will keep coming back.

I have spoken  before about the success of the lead stabilization task force that has been a collaboration between PFT, CASA, PHSI, Parents United and other stakeholders.   We developed a ranking of the schools that most needed this lead stabilization work, have gone through extensive back and forth on training and protocols including the critical communication to parents and staff. I have shared these positive stories because I had thought it would help this Board to see that when I request, *every time I testify*, that we need the same approach for asbestos, mold, HVAC, and other facilities issues I am offering proof that this approach has worked in the past.  We already have a template but we need the external pressure of this Board to push to do this work urgently.

Last month we received notice from Danielle FLoyd that our 2 year long campaign requesting an overall Facilities Action Group was granted.  Let that sink in, it took 2 years for an offer of help from a group of committed, knowledgeable, motivated group of volunteers to be taken up. I can’t help but think if we had been invited to the table to deal with asbestos and HVAC and other issues how much better off we would be right now.

I want this board to put the full force of its power behind a clear and strong message to the District and most importantly our students that they have your full support in tackling mold, lead, asbestos  with an urgent and robust response. I have outlined what that respone should look like below:

  • We need a prioritization list that is data driven, transparent and created/reviewed by our coalition of the schools with the most urgent and pressing asbestos issues by 10/25.
  •  We need work that started over a year ago and has been stalled for more than 4 months on the Asbestos Best Practices  to be pushed as a top priority. I hope this sticks out to you as much as it does to me, we have been pushing and trying to get work done on asbestos protocols for a year and it has been stalled. Imagine how much of our current crisis and the over all broken trust that could have been avoided had this been in place and been enforced.
  • We need the District  to work with the stakeholders including PFT, PHSI and others on a roadmap for practical,  broad-based data sharing and work on Best Practice development including all facility condition related environmental hazards.
  • We need the District to be more transparent about the Herculean task ahead of us.  While showing our mistakes, challenges and missteps can be hard it is the only way to build trust that has been so badly eroded by efforts to block and minimize true environmental health concerns raised by PHSI representatives.

What these bullets are meant to convey is that it is this Boards job to ask for the status of these items and demand that they be prioritized by the District.

When I read articles that say that the Board Chair, Dr. Wilkerson asked that Board members not attend the BFHS and SLA townhalls because the board “stands by our Superintendent” I wonder if you understand how demeaning that is to all of us who have been asking for urgent action and providing real concrete suggestions on how to make things better for years.  That the action you take in a moment of crisis is solidarity with the administration that has been so slow to respond to these issues, not the students, faculty and parents of these schools.

While it is convenient to point to school funding as the main issue, as it absolves us all of responsibility, it is not completely accurate.  When lead stabilization became a priority, the money came from the state and the City. I am a fierce advocate for fair funding from Harrisburg but I am not going to sit here and shrug and stand behind administrators who have not made our facilities issues a priority and only seem to show up when there is a crisis.

I have attached an email from the PFT sent in August to the District outlining the issues with the asbestos abatement that took place this summer at 3 schools specifically, I wonder if you are aware of this?  I have included the PFT Healthy Schools Action Plan: Asbestos Crisis in Philly Schools that was released in September and I have attached the Asbestos Abatement Program that has been in draft form and stalled for the last 4 months. I would ask this board to take these documents, read them and begin to demand accountability on their swift implementation.  Or you can wait for another crisis, but I promise you I will continue to show up until there is real urgency from this board as our students lives mean too much to me to be silent.


More suggestions for transparency:

1) Provide immediate, open, transparent access to the Facility Condition Database and all updates going forward


2) Provide immediate, open, transparent access to all work order system data [MoJo]


3) Provide copies of all Maintenance Department contractor/consultant evaluation, testing and remediation/repair related reports addressing facility condition deficiencies and environmental hazards with specific focus on providing all documentation related to HVAC system operation and functioning, thermal control issues and problems, mold/moisture/condensation, etc


4) Provide immediate, open, transparent access to all data, findings, reports and recommendations related to Safety Hazards as discovered and reported by contractors/consultants to the School District of Philadelphia Risk Management Dept.


The summary below was sent to the District’s Environmental Department at the end of August, following up on major asbestos problems and concerns experienced and observed by me at several schools over the summer but most critically at the 3 schools mentioned below:


PROBLEM SUMMARY – The following issues have been found to be problems at Blaine, Hamilton and Nebinger, as well as in other locations evaluated this summer and previously, and need critical review and upgrade


  • Asbestos remediation project planning, work scope determination and abatement implementation — often resulting in a too restricted work scope that comprises effective abatement and testing activities.


  • Coordination, scheduling and communication [broadly] – between asbestos abatement project managers and school principals/staff, between mechanical and sub-contractors and asbestos contractors, and between SDP departments.


  • Training, information and knowledge levels of contractors and environmental monitoring oversight personnel.


  • Enforcing compliance with established rules, regulations, accepted and best work practices and procedures, and, particularly, with directives, guidance and approaches established by OEMS.


  • Adequacy of on-site inspection, assessment, oversight, and monitoring of asbestos abatement work practices, procedures and conditions.


  • Air sampling and testing means, methods and analytical procedures to include issues related to exposures both “inside” and “outside” of asbestos abatement work areas.


  • Asbestos work area set-up, hours and configuration permitting non-asbestos workers/unprotected personnel to be potentially exposed to potentially dangerous levels of airborne asbestos fibers.


The above summary should not be considered as comprehensive but is provided in order to highlight overarching issues that need prompt attention both on site-specific and system levels in order to ensure necessary staff public/stakeholder confidence and trust in the conduct of environmental hazard remediation work, especially asbestos abatement, and the safety of normally occupied school areas during and following the completion of these activities.