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Ways to make Philadelphia district schools healthier

The Philly Health Schools Initiative wants the Philadelphia School District to fill more than 100 building and maintenance vacancies and set up a formal complaint system for school conditions.

A moldy Philadelphia district elementary school classroom in need of repair.
A moldy Philadelphia district elementary school classroom in need of repair.Read morePhiladelphia Federation of Teachers Health & Welfare Fund

For more than a year, the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative has been working on ways to make Philadelphia district schools safer and healthier for children. The coalition is made up of parents, council members, teachers, and environmental advocates. Among them are Jerry Roseman, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' director of environmental health and safety, and David Masur, executive director of the nonprofit PennEnvironment.

Here are some of their ideas:

*Put HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuums in every school, preferably on each floor, at a cost of $398 each, and have the custodial and cleaning staff use them daily, especially in areas with lead paint, asbestos, and rodent infestations. (The district recently purchased 25 of these vacuums.)

*Launch and promote a 311 complaint system, much like the City of Philadelphia's, about the district school buildings. Staffers, parents, students, and volunteers would be able to report environmental problems and upload photos. This transparent system would allow people to track the progress and resolution of complaints.

*Require the district to certify all classrooms in elementary schools as "lead safe," the same standard that landlords in Philadelphia have to meet in order to rent to households with children 6 and younger. School district inspectors should routinely assess lead paint in buildings and share the information on the district's website for public review.

*Immediately fill the numerous openings in the district's maintenance department (53), school building engineering (60), plus pest control (2) and cleaners (6). Philly Healthy Schools also said the district needs to add dozens more of the cleaner positions.

*Update all school buildings to meet current building codes and requirements, including spending $420 million to $560 million per year on major capital modernizations. Failing to do so, the Healthy Schools group said, will lead to skyrocketing maintenance costs.