Letters to the Editor

Safe teaching/learning environments 

Reading Mark Zimmaro’s report on the temporary relocation of a charter school due to emergency asbestos removal brought back distressing memories (“Temporary location for Universal Vare,” Aug. 16). The report describes how the school district is forced to move middle school students from Universal Vare STEM and Arts on 24th Street to a new location a few blocks away, while the cleanup of asbestos fiber is completed. It mentions also that the building was originally completed in 1924 – almost a century ago.

That report reminds me sadly of the fact that at least 80% of our Philadelphia public schools were built prior to 1978, when asbestos was the common fire-prevention material inserted in buildings. My former parish elementary school, Annunciation, BVM, was originally a public school building, the Wilson School. Our parish bought it and converted it into a parochial school, just in time for my twin brother and I to attend first grade back in 1946. Fortunately, we were not exposed to asbestos fiber, but I found out later that an older neighbor got a job cleaning the school and acquired asbestos fibers in her lungs. She was lucky to survive.

Altogether, I taught in 2 Catholic schools and 3 public schools over a 35-year career. My first public school teaching job, after I graduated college in 1966, was at the John H. Taggart School at 4th and Porter. The date on the cornerstone is 1908. Even when I started there, it was aging. Fortunately I did not experience any environmentally caused issues of which I am aware. I just blamed any respiratory problems on exposure to students with those conditions.

My last elementary teaching job of 5 years was in Queen Village at the William M. Meredith School, which was built in 1930. They were still using asbestos then. I was fortunate again that I was not affected. However, a teacher who came after me, Lea Di Russo, was exposed to asbestos and had to be treated for cancer. She sued the school district. This motivated a very disruptive emergency cleanup project by the district. I still say that the schools should have been inspected and cleaned during the year and a half pandemic lockdown. Virtual learning is a mess.

That was too many close calls for anyone. We will never know exactly how many students or teachers suffered side effects from the asbestos contamination – besides other environmental problems like lead paint chips. Our schools are old and need to be inspected and repaired for the health and safety of all who enter. Some buildings need to be replaced altogether. The city and state must do their part to support environmentally safe teaching/learning environments for the health and safety of all who enter.

The good news for me is that I survived learning and later teaching in those antique and often hazardous buildings. The work on the Universal Vare building is just one of many that need to be addressed. Keeping everyone safe should be the No. 1 priority of city, state and federal governments. Let’s keep it going.

Gloria C. Endres

Body cameras for all cops

Police throughout the United States of America are supposed to protect and serve citizens accordingly. But when a controversial decision from police takes effect, we have to hold our police officers accountable so tragic unlawful actions will not continue to happen. Very dangerous situations happen, especially in the current climate we live in today.

But in some scenarios, police officers do not have to use their firearm in order to protect themselves or the surroundings they’re enforcing. The body cameras help for evidence on both ends. This way, after the altercation ends, there would be critical footage of what exactly happened from beginning to end.

Body cameras should be worn nowadays on all police officers throughout Pennsylvania.

Alim Howell