Case Study: School District of Philadelphia Models IAQ Success for Large, Urban School Districts

Feb 8, 20160 comments

 By. Cyndy Merse, GSNN Content Writer

The School District of Philadelphia is the eighth largest school district in the country (by enrollment), serving a racially and ethnically diverse population of more than 131,000 K-12 students.  As with many large, urban school districts, the School District of Philadelphia has seen its share of indoor air quality (IAQ) issues over the years.  Up until 2009, the district typically took a reactive approach to addressing IAQ complaints; however, an opportunity to attend the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium inspired the district to tackle their IAQ issues head on.


Making the IAQ Connection

At the 2009 IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium, the School District of Philadelphia (specifically, staff from the Office of Environmental Management Services, Capital Programs, and Facilities) learned from and were inspired by the many other districts they met who were successfully addressing IAQ issues in their schools.  The experience affirmed for the district that IAQ was a real issue that others were consciously managing and taking seriously. Most importantly, the attendees saw the connection between the environmental health conditions in schools and the academic success of students.  Following the Symposium, the district began to think more earnestly about starting its own IAQ program, based on the framework suggested by the IAQ Tools for Schools Program.

From the outset, the School District of Philadelphia recognized that they had a couple of hurdles to overcome, namely the size of the district (218 schools, 400+ buildings) and the antiquated, deteriorating building systems.  To adequately address these issues, the district sought assistance from the entire school community, from teachers and principals to the district Industrial Hygienist and Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspectors.  The School District of Philadelphia adapted its AHERA inspections to cover indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues, enabling the AHERA inspectors to be on the lookout for potential IAQ triggers during their inspections.


Photo|Brian Joseph, School District of Philadelphia, Industrial Hygienist, IEQ Coordinator

Photo|Brian Joseph, School District of Philadelphia, Industrial Hygienist, IEQ Coordinator


A Systematic Approach for Success

The School District of Philadelphia has adopted a systematic approach to assessing, reporting, and correcting IAQ problems.  Three types of inspections are conducted by the district to assess IAQ:

  • Biannual general inspections at each school covering the range of IEQ issues (e.g., mold, air quality, pests);
  • Complaint driven inspections, which are conducted daily; and
  • Asthma trigger inspections, which are focused on areas of a school experiencing a high prevalence of asthma symptoms.

Although these inspections are generally led by the Industrial Hygienist and AHERA inspectors, staff from the Environmental, Capital Programs, and Maintenance Departments, as well as building occupants, work in a coordinated fashion to address IAQ issues once they are identified.  Following inspections, two types of reports are generated based on the inspectors’ findings:

  • Design Data Collection (DDC) Packets. A DDC covers the scope of work for immediate health concerns. This form includes quantification of the issue at hand, location, photos, and the recommended corrective action.  Once generated, DDCs enable the appropriate district staff to address the IAQ issue immediately, usually overnight.
  • IEQ Dashboard Reports. IEQ Dashboard Reports are tailored environmental interventions, often more detailed than DDCs, that make it easy to identify and remove IAQ triggers from specific locations.  These reports are reviewed by an IEQ committee to ensure the recommended corrective actions are completed or that a plan of action is in place for implementation.

Throughout the year, the Capital Program is kept up-to-date on the district’s IAQ activities and incorporates chronic building problems (e.g., roofs and exterior masonry repair) into their Capital Improvement Program.


Asthma Focus is Key Program Component

One component of its IAQ program that the School District of Philadelphia is particularly proud of is its asthma focus.  The city of Philadelphia has the highest prevalence of asthma among students compared to the rest of Pennsylvania, and the district is committed to providing a safe and healthy learning environment for students with asthma.  The district has assembled an Asthma Committee, including representatives from the American Lung Association, area hospitals, and the district’s nursing coordinator, to identify and implement environmental interventions for asthma.  One of their key tasks is measuring the effectiveness of interventions after they are completed; for instance, is there a change in the number of students having to use emergency medication to resolve asthma symptoms?  The committee is also responsible for providing education and outreach on asthma, including Asthma 101 training for teachers, Parent University sessions, and distributing posters that identify asthma triggers and symptoms.


Recognition and Future Aspirations

Since the School District of Philadelphia implemented its proactive IAQ management program, the corrective action rate for addressing IAQ issues has soared over 70% and all mold issues are sought out and remediated immediately.  In March 2011, the district was recognized by the EPA with a National Great Start Award for their efforts to address IAQ.  Looking to the future, the district would like to have an IEQ baseline report for every school to help measure future progress, as well as develop Asthma Friendly School Report Cards for each school with incentives for achieving certain milestones.



Interview with Francine Locke, Environmental Director, School District of Philadelphia

Francine Locke is the Environmental Director for the School District of Philadelphia, where she also received her own K-12 education.  She is a Philadelphia resident and a graduate of Temple University where she majored in Biology and received a Master’s Degree in Environmental Health.  Francine has worked for the School District of Philadelphia, a large, diverse, urban public school district, since 2005.  Her job is to create sustainable healthy learning and working environments through innovative program development.  Several programs that Francine has designed with team members include Indoor Environmental Quality, Asbestos Management/AHERA, Lead-based Paint Management (and Lead RRP), Mold/Moisture Identification, Remediation and Prevention, Universal and Hazardous Waste Programs, Laboratory Chemical Management, and Lead Safe Drinking Water.  Francine is presently managing the development of an Asthma Management Program and Sustainability Management Program for the School District of Philadelphia.

“EPA Recognizes Philadelphia School District with a National Great Start Award.” Environmental Protection Agency. March 9, 2011. (

School District of Philadelphia Profile on Asthma Community Network. (