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Overcrowding concerns at Northeast Philly school

Teachers say the school, which received about 350 students from a school partially closed due to structural problems, poses a safety threat.

Woodrow Wilson Middle School took on students from nearby Solis-Cohen School after structural problems were discovered.
Woodrow Wilson Middle School took on students from nearby Solis-Cohen School after structural problems were discovered.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

TEACHERS at Woodrow Wilson Middle School are up in arms about overcrowding - the result of the relocation of 350 students from another school - which they claim is putting students and staff in danger.

Wilson, on Cottman Avenue near Loretto in Castor, has fifth- and sixth-grade pupils from nearby Solis-Cohen School, which is partially shut down because of structural issues discovered just before schools opened. To accommodate kids from Solis-Cohen on the first floor, 1,134 Wilson students have been moved to the second and third floors.

"The building is nuts, and it's become more violent," said one Wilson teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. She said several glass panels and bathroom stalls have been broken through vandalism.

The veteran educator, who works on one of the upper floors, said that during a recent evacuation it took her 4 1/2 minutes to get her class out of the building, as opposed to 1 1/2 minutes previously. She fears that the congestion could lead to a tragedy in the event of an emergency.

"There are so many kids in the hallway at the same time, it's unbelievable," she said, noting that a lawful-occupancy sign posted in the building was removed this year.

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the Philadelphia School District, suggested the volume of students is not a safety issue, as long as there is "an orderly exit and that everyone exits the building" during evacuations.

He said that teachers concerned about safety should contact the district.

"If we have staff that have concerns regarding the fire drill and whether they can exit the building, we need to hear that . . . then we will absolutely work with them on that," Gallard said. "That's absolutely a priority for us."

Teachers said they have complained to the principal, along with contacting the Fire Department, the Department of Licenses and Inspections and elected officials, to no avail.

Another major concern, they said, is the cafeteria. Because of the number of students, grades have been combined during lunch periods and kids are now exiting and entering one set of doors at the same time.

"That's kind of scary for me. This is the first year we've had co-ed lunches in there," said another teacher, who also asked to remain anonymous. Girls' and boys' bathrooms are located on opposite ends of the hallway, and students now have to walk farther to the restroom unsupervised.

"You need accountability for those kids," she said.

Other parts of the building have been rearranged, too, teachers say. The library and rooms used by special-education students have been turned into regular classrooms, and chairs and tables have been placed in the hallways.

Students also are forced to share lockers.

And despite the extra students, there is only one additional police officer, leaving one other officer to monitor the two upper floors, one teacher said.

"He's fabulous," she said of the officer, "but how much can one person do?"

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol