Update (10/27/2023): The seventh Philadelphia school in 2023 closed due to asbestos. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Southwark Elementary School closed in October. Most students would attend South Philly High School. It’s the first school closure in Philadelphia of the 2023-2024 school year.
Update (05/01/2023): The sixth Philadelphia school in 2023 was closed due to finding asbestos. According to CBS News, Universal Vare Charter School is temporarily closed asbestos was detected during a routine check.
Update (04/25/2023): Another school in Philadelphia closed due to asbestos. According to NBC10 Philadelphia, C.W. Henry School in the Mount Airy neighborhood closed due to finds of the cancerous substance. This makes five Philadelphia schools to close because of asbestos just in 2023.
There’s another chapter to the ongoing asbestos crisis in Philadelphia public school buildings.
According to the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia and other media outlets, two more Philadelphia schools closed due to discoveries of dangerous asbestos. This makes multiple reports in the last few weeks of Philadelphia schools dealing with asbestos sightings.
According to the reports, Frankford High School and Mitchell Elementary School closed down the second week of April, after Spring Break ended. Virtual learning began Tuesday, April 11. There are approximately 900 students at Frankford High and 350 students at Mitchell Elementary.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the issue occurred due to inaccurate record-keeping of asbestos-containing plaster. The records inaccurately labeled the plaster as “non-asbestos containing” and safe for decades.
Reports state Frankford High School may reopen within a week after closing, but Mitchell Elementary School should remain closed for the rest of the school year. While virtual learning is a temporary solution for the students, the plan reportedly is to find an in-person setting for Mitchell Elementary students for the remainder of the school year.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that can cause mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer and other deadly diseases. It is a fire-resistant and durable substance capable of preventing fire damage in buildings. However, as years pass with no renovation or repairs, asbestos can decay and fragment, which releases sharp fibers that can cause cancer if inhaled or ingested.
During the 20th century, many buildings were constructed with asbestos inside of the walls, in roof tiles and more. School buildings were part of the group, and many old school buildings that haven’t been renovated in decades still contain decaying asbestos.
Asbestos Concerns Among Philadelphia Schools in 2023
These are the third and fourth Philadelphia buildings to close due to asbestos just in 2023. Building 21 High School closed down in March as students were relocated to Strawberry Mansion High School. The next week, Mastery Charter Simon Gratz High School was shut down. They reopened soon after.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, approximately 400 students from Building 21 High School have occupied one floor of Strawberry Mansion High School since the school closed.
As of October 2023, there have been seven Philadelphia schools to close since March 2023:
- Building 21
- Frankford High
- C.W. Henry Elementary
- Mastery Simon Gratz High
- Mitchell Elementary
- Southwark Elementary
- Universal Vare charter school
There have been other Philadelphia schools dealing with asbestos prior to 2023. The crisis began in 2019, when Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy shut down. Five more schools shut down in 2019 and four schools shut down in 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If not for the pandemic shutting down in-person learning, there might have been more asbestos sightings in other schools a lot sooner than in 2023.
- 2 Philadelphia schools discuss next steps following asbestos discovery. ABC6. Retrieved from: https://6abc.com/asbestos-philadelphia-schools-school-district/13107334/. Accessed: 04/12/2023.
- Frankford High School. Great Philly Schools. Retrieved from: https://www.greatphillyschools.org/schools/0011N00001GzoTnQAJ/frankford-high-school. Accessed: 04/12/2023.
- Mitchell Elementary School. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/pennsylvania/mitchell-elementary-school-203523. Accessed: 04/12/2023.
- Asbestos is closing two more Philly schools — one for the rest of the year. Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved from: https://www.inquirer.com/news/philadelphia-school-district-asbestos-frankford-mitchell-20230407.html. Accessed: 04/13/2023.
- South Philadelphia school temporarily closed after finding asbestos. CBS News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbsnews.com/philadelphia/news/south-philadelphia-school-temporarily-closed-after-finding-asbestos/. Accessed: 05/01/2023.
- Asbestos closes Southwark Elementary School. Most students to relocate to South Philly High. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved from: https://www.inquirer.com/education/philadelphia-school-asbestos-closed-southwark-20231027.html. Accessed: 10/27/2023.
Sources & Author
Sources & Author