As a Frankford High School alum and the Councilmember who represents Frankford, we are proud to represent Frankford High. We may not remember every lesson from every class, but we have recent memories of running up the steps, practicing on the basketball court, and watching on the field. Due to the asbestos issue plaguing our school buildings, the class of 2023 will not share these experiences, and we have extreme concerns about the experiences for the class of 2024.
The quality of our school buildings has forced numerous schools to close, with many families wondering if theirs is next. This fear and anxiety has only added to the dire experiences our youth face today.
We have held hearings and traveled to Harrisburg to demand more for our schools. The School District of Philadelphia needs to release a comprehensive plan around modern and safe school buildings. And Harrisburg needs to help Philadelphia pay for it as the PA Fair Funding lawsuit supports it.
While many may say this plan will take time or “not the right moment,” we urge you to look at what has been accomplished in a short time around the I-95 rebuild.
The nation watched a large chunk of I-95 crumble, a catastrophe for Philadelphia and the entire region. We all watched press conferences and live streams as all forms of government came together to build back better. In less than a month, a temporary but workable solution was put in place.
While we are encouraged by the progress, the transparent communication, the coordinated response, and the ultimate end result — we are confused why this highway got better treatment than Philadelphia students and teachers.
When a portion of I-95 collapsed, all levels of government gathered to describe the situation, outlined the plan for remediation, and gave constant updates to announce progress. This swift and coordinated response even saw an earlier-than-expected timetable and put tons of hardworking men and women to work. As Governor Shapiro stood with Mayor Kenney and President Biden to announce the plan to rebuild I-95, he said, “We will leverage every asset to get this done. We will work around the clock.”
Our young people, our teachers, and all of our communities, deserve the same energy and timetable.
When we advocate for safer, more modern school buildings, we are constantly told that it’s too expensive or that we can try in next year’s budget. There have been no such questions about the cost or timeline around the I-95. There was a crisis, and we saw actions and solutions; that is the standard of government that people should be used to.
We are not writing to criticize the response to I-95 but rather to highlight, amplify, and understand why this is not our normal response. Imagine if asbestos in schools or crime spikes received the same attention and coordination as the I-95 collapse.
The pandemic forced our schools to operate virtually, without school buildings, for 2-plus years. We saw a dramatic decline in test scores, graduation rates, and socialization. We don’t have to wonder what happens if we don’t prioritize safe school buildings, because we’ve already seen the result, and our students, teachers, and society suffered.
Our offices have been working closely with the Frankford community to find a way to provide for faculty and families. To lose a physical school is devastating, with dire consequences. But we must act now to address every school building at the same level as we addressed a highway.
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas is an At-Large Member of City Council and Frankford High School Alumnus, class of 2002. Councilmember Quetcy Lozada is a District Member of City Council representing the 7th Councilmanic District (which includes Frankford High School).
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MORE ON OUR SCHOOLS FROM THE CITIZENOutside Frankford High School.