School District of Philadelphia Challenges New “Best Practices” Law
Statement on the Lawsuit from Board of Education President Reginald L. Streater, Esq.
The School District of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit today challenging the City’s environmental “best practices” law. If allowed to stand, the law could needlessly threaten the opening of many District school buildings at the start of the next school year, jeopardizing the health, safety, and welfare of our students, especially those who rely on our buildings for shelter and services.
The law allows a City advisory board to set new opening standards for District-owned school buildings which house more than 130,000 students and 18,000 staff each school day. One of our concerns is this advisory board is allowed to consist of individuals with no specific scientific, technical or environmental expertise or licensing. The District would be required to accept and meet these standards before a building is allowed to open.
Students receive more than just instruction in our schools. They receive free meals, behavioral and mental health services, academic and social supports, medical attention and after-school activities. State law says the District alone is empowered to make decisions on opening and closing school buildings for in-person learning, because the impact of missing such in-person access is so great.
We know children struggle when they are physically disconnected from in-person learning. It’s not just student achievement that suffers; schools provide children with a community and supports to deal with social-emotional trauma, as well as nutritional and medical needs. So, any action, even if well-intentioned, that threatens to remove children from in-person education will be met with the requisite response from the School District of Philadelphia and its Board of Education.
This law also puts us at odds with the federal environmental regulations governing every U.S. school district as well as local and state mandates. It further wrongly shifts our focus and resources away from efforts to meet those rigorous requirements. While we understand this law is well-intentioned, it will not make schools or our children safer.
Please do not mistake this lawsuit as an effort to skirt accountability or responsibility. Quite the contrary. This suit should provide clarity and predictability. It should enable the District to focus its resources on the existing extensive federal, state and local regulations and on the goal we all share: maintaining nurturing, welcoming and safe school environments for all our children and staff.
In the meantime, we are making substantial environmental improvements. More than 4,400 asbestos-related abatement actions in 241 buildings were completed in 2022. At least 168 schools now have “lead safe” or “lead-free” certifications. We have installed more than 1,665 hydration stations, and recently won a $5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help reach our goal of one hydration station for every 100 students within the next five years. There is more to be done, for certain. And this law will hamper our ability to maintain this progress.