From the blog

Teachers in Philadelphia are Suing for Being Punished for Asbestos Protest

Published: October 12, 2023

Three teachers recently filed a lawsuit over their first amendment right to publicly demand answers about asbestos inside classrooms.  They claim their rights were violated when they were punished for protesting in 2021. As part of a protest, they worked outside during teacher only workdays to protest their risks of asbestos exposure. Administrators told staff they would face disciplinary measures for any unauthorized leave, including no pay, if they did not go inside the building. The lawyer for the teachers says the teachers were not absent from their jobs and that the district knew they were working, it just wanted to punish the teachers for protesting.

The lawsuit claims that the superintendent and acting principal told the teachers that the building was safe and the teachers must go inside. Teachers left working outside were given “Authorized Leave Without Pay” notices and were docked money from their paychecks. The lawsuit is looking to have the disciplinary notice expunged and the teachers to receive their pay with interest and compensatory damages. This is not the first lawsuit over asbestos in Philadelphia schools. The Philadelphia school district sued Philadelphia because of its law creating oversight and management of health hazards. They recently settled the lawsuits.

As part of the settlement agreement, the school district will inspect all schools and will post results online in a timely manner. In addition, the school will allocate $2.5 million from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to the District to help improve data management related to environmental health reporting. City officials agree that this is a good move that will help ensure safety of students and staff. People affected by the lawsuit are glad the lawsuit is settled because it allows them to properly inspect all buildings so they can be made safer.

The teachers are right to be worried about asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that was used for its heat and fire resistant properties. Asbestos is made up of millions of microscopic fibers that once inhaled become lodged in human tissue like the lungs and mesothelium. Over time, the body cannot remove the fibers. The fibers cause inflammation and DNA changes in cells, turning healthy cells into cancer cells. The main cancers related to asbestos are mesothelioma and lung cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer of the mesothelium, which is a membrane that lines certain areas of the body including the lungs and abdomen.

“City of Philadelphia and School District of Philadelphia Announce Settlement in Lawsuit Concerning Environmental Management” City of Philadelphia (August 2, 2023). [Link]
Tesfaye Negussie, “Philadelphia teachers sue district for First Amendment rights violation over asbestos protests” ABC News (September 14, 2023). [Link]
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