February 7 — 5:26 pm, 2020

Hopkinson closed indefinitely for more asbestos abatement

District and labor leaders met Thursday to talk about forming a "rapid response team" of unionized laborers to do facilities work.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan spoke at a Feb. 5 news conference outside Hopkinson Elementary School. (Photo: Lynn Oseguera)

Hopkinson Elementary School in Juniata will remain closed for the indefinite future so that environmental cleanup can take place at the school, District officials said Friday.

In addition to asbestos abatement, lead stabilization work is also ongoing, said District spokeswoman Monica Lewis.

She said that although test results for loose asbestos have come back as “undetectable,” there is still work that needs to be completed.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has a different take on school conditions and has argued that the District’s testing was not stringent enough. It called the need for further asbestos remediation at the school “urgent” because of what it says is continuing danger to students and staff from a ceiling tile replacement project completed over the summer. The union said that the project was not disclosed to the union and staff and that it did not include enough care to contain asbestos dust.

Lewis said there was no estimate on how long the school might remain closed.

PFT had recommended the continued closure and called it “an absolutely commendable decision and one borne out of the relentless advocacy of the PFT and all of our members” in a statement from president Jerry Jordan. “Our recommendations are always given based on facts, science, and our deep commitment to protecting the health and safety of our members and the students we serve.”

The union proposed on Wednesday a “rapid response team” that would enlist unionized laborers to increase capacity for dealing with potentially dangerous school conditions. The proposal was made at a news conference in front of the school that included American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

District Superintendent William Hite immediately responded to the offer, and the meeting took place the next day. In his statement, Jordan called the meeting with District and labor leaders “productive.”

“The District’s response to our proposed rapid response team is very encouraging, and I appreciate [interim chief of facilities and capital projects] Jim Creedon’s leadership in convening this group and looking for creative solutions to this problem.” 

The tone of potential cooperation is a marked change from the District and PFT’s interactions over the asbestos crisis, which has closed eight schools this year. PFT has sued the District over its response, calling it “negligent” and seeking court intervention to certify that school buildings are safe for occupancy.

Jordan characterized the decision to close the 875-student K-8 school as “an enormous win for the children and staff.”

Hopkinson students are being bused to locations elsewhere. Kindergarten through 2nd graders are located in the Little School House; 3rd through 5th graders are at Roberto Clemente Middle School; and 6th through 8th graders are at Grover Washington.

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