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Mold flagged by a Philly teacher will be remediated — after the union’s environmental expert was escorted out of the school

Jerry Roseman, the union’s longtime director of environmental science, was denied entry and escorted off school grounds Friday.

Photos of music stands at Frankford High School taken by a Frankford teacher.
Photos of music stands at Frankford High School taken by a Frankford teacher.Read moreCOURTESY JERRY JORDAN

With “mold growth everywhere,” a malfunctioning HVAC system, and a persistent odor at one city high school, a worried teacher at Frankford High sounded an alarm this week about potentially hazardous environmental conditions.

Because the issues represent a possible imminent health hazard, teachers’ union representatives have a right to access Frankford to examine the school. But Jerry Roseman, the union’s longtime director of environmental science, was denied entry and escorted off school grounds Friday.

“This is shocking and begs the question: What is the district hiding?” Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president, said in a statement. “The district’s continued refusal to collaborate so that we can collectively advocate for the healthy schools our students and staff deserve is not only discouraging, it is dangerous.”

Christina Clark, a district spokesperson, said the school system took swift action to examine the problem once it was notified, and that Roseman was denied admittance because he is a contractor, not a PFT employee, and was unknown to Frankford staff. Roseman, Jordan said, has been examining environmental conditions inside city schools for nearly 40 years.

“Any individual who attempts to gain access to our buildings and is unknown to a school leader will not be permitted access,” Clark said in a statement. “Following the visitor protocol is even more important as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic.”

The teacher who flagged the mold growth Wednesday said in a report to PFT, “there is mold growth everywhere,” “there is no running HVAC system,” and “it smells all the time.” The comments were submitted through a PFT app that tracks environmental conditions inside city schools.

Photos from inside the school show what appears to be a music room with residue resembling mold coating a piano, a row of instrument cases, and metal music stands.

Roseman, in a letter to district officials, said that he has “seen this kind of condition several times before and it is very likely that the mold growth may be more extensive and well beyond what is pictured in the app report. This situation requires an urgent, systemic, and comprehensive response and evaluation.” He recommended the district restrict access to the room where the mold was detected and immediately install dehumidification.

Clark, the district spokesperson, said the room has been closed to teachers and students, was inspected Friday, and work to fix the problem will begin Monday and is expected to finish by the end of next week.

Jordan stood with several members of City Council Friday after Councilmember Derek Green introduced legislation that would create a school safety advisory group within the Managing Director’s Office and restrict the Department of Licenses and Inspection from granting a special certificate of inspection to any school building without thorough inspection for environmental-related hazards.

Jordan said he’s furious that the PFT isn’t being permitted to collaborate on developing a response to the issue, especially given the district’s track record.

Environmental conditions have long been a hot-button issue in the school system. Most recently, teachers briefly refused to work inside Masterman because of questions about damaged asbestos, and Science Leadership Academy at Beeber was briefly closed because of construction issues and a lack of operational bathrooms at that school.

In the Masterman case, the district has said it’s remediated all damaged asbestos, a contention parents and the PFT challenge.

Roseman was allowed walkthroughs at Masterman, but never permitted to make full inspections, he and the parents’ group say. In a report, Roseman wrote that “there is still no way to be sufficiently certain that all areas of the school have been made fully safe for student and staff occupancy without the provision of additional information and additional response actions being performed. Instead, it is my opinion that generally acknowledged and recognized ‘Best Practices’ for asbestos remediation and testing were not adequately followed.”