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What does that look like? Rotting walls, standing water, mold and crumbling ceilings, are just some of the health hazards America Tonight saw through dozens of images obtained from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. They offer a behind-the-scenes look at unsanitary and unsafe conditions — from asbestos to toilets clogged beyond repair.
Mitchell Elementary School, seen above, is one of almost 150 elementary schools in the city of Philadelphia where the teacher’s union has documented deficiencies – including this picture from September 2015, which shows exposed insulation, plastic over windows, mold and discoloration.
Perhaps the most stunning images are pictures of children’s building blocks covered with mouse droppings. This picture was captured by Jerry Roseman, an environmental scientist with the teacher’s union.
“It's clearly not acceptable,” said Roseman, who has been inside many of Phliadelphia's public schools and written dozens of assessment reports on behalf of the union. “The deficiencies are egregious and the conditions are urgent and immediate.”
In 2013, 12-year-old student LaPorshia Massey died after a prolonged asthma attack inside Philadelphia’s Bryant Elementary. While Massey’s medical condition was pre-existing, Roseman had documented the environmental conditions at Bryant as severely deficient: More than 90 percent of rooms had asthma triggers like damaged and flaking lead paint.
Our crew was not allowed inside any public schools to inspect conditions ourselves or access to any of the school district's own reports on building conditions and environmental health and safety.
We did sit down with Danielle Floyd, director of Capital Programs for the School District of Philadelphia, who cited a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.
"There’s really a big challenge between our outstanding need and our ability to be able to address it,” she said.
Since 2001, Philadelphia’s public schools have been under state control. Since then, enrollment has dropped and the district’s budget has been cut. For the more than 150,000 children that attend public school in Philadelphia, that’s meant fewer teachers, larger class sizes and fewer janitors.
In a lengthy interview, Floyd told America Tonight that her office is committed to providing kids with a building that is “safe, warm and dry.”
Still, for many children, conditions aren’t getting better fast enough. From book closets to bathrooms, children navigate dirty spaces every day — or, as some families have chosen to do, leave.