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Philly teacher of 28 years has cancer caused by asbestos; catching up on last night’s debate | Morning Newsletter

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Amr Osman, left, with his wife Lea DiRusso at her South Philadelphia home, November 7, 2019. DiRusso was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August after being exposed to asbestos while working in two South Philadelphia elementary schools for the past 30 years.
Amr Osman, left, with his wife Lea DiRusso at her South Philadelphia home, November 7, 2019. DiRusso was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August after being exposed to asbestos while working in two South Philadelphia elementary schools for the past 30 years.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

    The Morning Newsletter

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Yesterday turned out to be a big day in national politics. Not only did the Democrats running for president have their fifth debate last night, but the impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill included testimony that was the first to directly tie President Donald Trump to the Ukraine pressure campaign.

Locally, we have two major stories involving Philly schools and educators following the news earlier this week about the School District’s plans to combat asbestos in its school buildings. One is directly related, as we profile a 28-year veteran of Philly schools who was recently diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos. Also, Pennsylvania will be testing a new program in Philly to diversify the state’s pool of teachers.

— Josh Rosenblat (@joshrosenblat,

When Lea DiRusso would walk into her classroom on Monday mornings, she’d often see dust on her desk or on the ground. DiRusso would work to brighten Classroom 206.5, hanging artwork between two old heating pipes and sweeping up the dust.

It turns out that the 28-year veteran of the Philadelphia School District was put at greater risk of inhaling cancer-causing asbestos fibers, according to medical experts. Her classroom in the 90-year-old Meredith Elementary had a history of damaged and unrepaired asbestos pipe insulation, records show. In late August, DiRusso was told she had mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos.

Not only has Pennsylvania’s teaching pool shrunk, but 96% of the educator force is white. It’s the least diverse in the United States, according to state education officials.

A new program to help increase diversity will be the first of its kind in the nation, Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said Wednesday. A pilot program will begin when the Philadelphia School District identifies a group of high school seniors with good grades who want to enter the education field. They’ll get after-school guidance, gain teaching experience in the summer, and enroll in education schools next fall.

Micah Tennant was a fifth grader at Atlantic City’s Uptown School Complex. The news of his death came just hours before the resumption of the New Jersey high school playoff game between Pleasantville and Camden High Schools. Camden won the game, which was finished at Lincoln Financial Field.

“He’s a good, loving, young boy, full of life, just a happy-go-lucky kid,” his uncle said. “Just a happy child. It’s beyond comprehension.”

What you need to know today

  1. What are some of the big takeaways from last night’s debate?

  2. The U.S. ambassador to the European Union said during yesterday’s impeachment inquiry hearing that there was an explicit “quid pro quo” that would tie a White House visit to Trump’s push for investigations into his political rivals. Here’s the full text of his statement.

  3. Philadelphia’s Office of the Inspector General found that a developer whom Council President Darrell L. Clarke backed exploited the land-sale process to secure a sweetheart deal on prime real estate near Temple University in 2016.

  4. A California-based company has come under fire for its plans to test an unapproved implant on homeless Philadelphians and Louisiana prison inmates who are struggling with addiction.

  5. Philadelphia may soon stop charging fines for overdue library books, joining a number of other cities that have ended late fees.

  6. Four Democratic presidential candidates want Comcast to investigate the “toxic culture” at NBC.

Through your eyes | #OurPhilly

I love how this image contrasts the unpredictable textures of the pavement with the clean architecture of the Merchants’ Exchange Building. Great shot, @shaynemalcolm.

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!

That’s interesting

  1. A new study from Penn on almost 200 adult survivors of gun violence in Philadelphia found that nearly half screened positive for likely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder years after they had been shot.

  2. The Philly police union president responded to Malcolm Jenkins’ Inquirer op-ed piece by calling the Eagles safety a “nonresident, washed-up football player."

  3. Meek Mill and Bradley Cooper earned two of Philly’s Grammy nominations. Plus, Philadelphia dominated some classical-music categories.

  4. Ex-Penn State star Saquon Barkley is elevating his game with the motivation of being a young father.

  5. The musical version of Mean Girls opened at the Academy of Music this week. Here’s what our reviewer had to say about the brainchild of local prodigy Tina Fey.

  6. He did it last month in a preseason game, but this time it was in a game that actually counted. For the first time in his NBA career, Ben Simmons drained a three in the Sixers’ matchup with the Knicks last night. The Wells Fargo Center crowd went wild.


“Parents are right to be concerned about the toxic dangers in the city’s aging school buildings and the School District’s response, which has often been too slow and not straightforward in communicating to parents a realistic picture of how the district is fixing the dangers of asbestos in schools.” — The Inquirer Editorial Board writes that action on Philly’s toxic schools needs to include more city and state leaders.

  1. The Working Families Party bumped a Republican from City Council. Albert Eisenberg, a political consultant who worked for the Philadelphia Republican Party, writes that the change might not end up helping workers or families.

  2. Local community members and commuters debate whether a long-closed transportation hub should reopen in Philadelphia.

What we’re reading

  1. Philadelphia Magazine has a guide to finding stuffing-filled Thanksgiving-esque sandwiches.

  2. The Wall Street Journal created a database that lets you pick a university and a major to see the median debt graduates have and how much money they might be making.

  3. One executive stole $13 million from an NBA franchise. ESPN examined how he did it.

Your Daily Dose of | The UpSide

Inquirer writer David Gambacorta explains how a “bad old movie” could tie together his childhood and that of his almost-16-year-old son.