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Philadelphia School District Announces Asbestos Plan Same Day Pratt Early Childhood Center To Be Closed To Deal With Issue

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- On the same day the School District of Philadelphia announced plans to combat asbestos in schools, another Philadelphia school will be closed to deal with the issue. Students of Pratt Early Childhood Center who attend classes in what was known as Pratt Elementary School are being removed after an inspection discovered asbestos in the building.

Damage was found in the boiler room and potentially asbestos-damaged material may also be behind the covers for the heating units and behind built-in bookcases.

"When the PFT Health & Welfare Fund discovered alarmingly high asbestos levels in the school on Nov. 12, we immediately shared our comprehensive report with the District, emphasizing that it was unsafe for children and school staff to occupy the building. The District properly moved forward with a temporary relocation plan to ensure everyone's safety. While this is an unwelcome disruption of the school year, the long-term health of our schoolchildren and educators is well worth the temporary inconvenience," the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said in a statement.

The Philadelphia School District says the school was temporarily closed out of an "abundance of caution."

"The health and safety of students and staff remain top priorities of the School District of Philadelphia. In an abundance of caution, the District is temporarily closing Pratt Head Start and is relocating children and staff while environmental issues are addressed. The Early Childhood Education team is making every effort to identify pre-K services for children at locations that are convenient for families, and families will be notified by Thursday, Nov. 21 about alternative pre-K placements," the district said in a statement.

This latest case comes as the school district says it will spend $12 million to remediate asbestos found in city schools. It's part of a plan to address increasing environmental concerns facing students.

"We know these are lofty goals but we also know we need to get this right," Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.

The plan also includes hiring an environmental consultant to test construction projects, inspecting schools for asbestos and lead paint problems, eliminating the backlog of asbestos-related work by the start of the next school year, and starting a reporting process so students and teachers can report problems.

"We believe that making these changes will help us improve our schools and will have regular updates from the district to ensure that progress is being made," Philadelphia School Board President Joyce Wilkerson said.

This latest asbestos case comes as parents of students who attend Thomas M. Peirce School in North Philly will tour another school where their children may be moved amid asbestos concerns.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says it first flagged the district to asbestos in mid-September, but the district says abatement did not start until late October.

The district has now proposed moving students to a school on Henry Avenue. If all goes well, the district plans to relocate the students on Dec. 2.

It's unclear when students will return to Peirce elementary.

In September, students and staff at the shared Ben Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy campus were forced out of school due to asbestos concerns. They were relocated in October.

CBS3's Howard Monroe contributed to this report.

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