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UFT reports warn crowding at Francis Lewis HS is a safety hazard

Stories of Francis Lewis High School’s crowded hallways have made their way into more than one city newspaper, but until recently no one has asked the question: what would happen if someone yelled “fire” in a crowded stairwell?

Concerned that the Queens school’s choked hallways — there are over 4,000 students in a building designed for 2,400 — would trap students and teachers during an evacuation, the school’s chapter leader, Arthur Goldstein, asked officials at the United Federation of Teachers to do a safety inspection. A report from the inspectors warns that in the event of an emergency, the crowds in Francis Lewis would have a difficult time leaving the building.

One report, written by UFT Environmental Safety representative Sandra Dunne Yules, states:

The crowded hallways exceed the safe limits and impact emergency egress capacity of the school. The building was designed for far fewer occupants and this condition creates a serious emergency egress hazard. This school was not designed to safely handle the evacuation of the number of current occupants. This is a serious life safety issue and a fire code and building code violation.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Marge Feinberg, said the Division of School Facilities had received the reports and worked with the school’s administration to address the issues.

“There are no outstanding safety issues at the school,” Feinberg said. “Francis Lewis High School is a safe school.”

A spokesman for the UFT, Dick Riley, said the school’s ventilation problems and access to exits had been resolved, but crowding remains a major concern.

Goldstein, who is running for the UFT executive board as a member of the opposition party ICE, responded skeptically. He said nothing had been done to improve access to exits and though a large air conditioner was installed to address ventilation problems, it’s not being used because it’s too noisy.

Francis Lewis has yet to hold a fire drill at mid-day when all of its over 4,000 students are in class, Goldstein said, leaving administrators to question whether the full school can successfully be evacuated.

According to Goldstein, the DOE has promised to alleviate the crowding by not placing any more students at Francis Lewis who are transferring out of failing schools. The school’s principal has also agreed to set aside half of all the seats in the magnet program for zoned students.

Date: September 30, 2009
Subject: Indoor Environmental Quality
Francis Lewis High School

On September 19th 2009 Ed Olmsted and Sandra Dunne Yules inspected Francis Lewis HS in Queens. The purpose of the inspection was to investigate concerns of over-crowding of the school. The school has been the subject of newspaper articles this past month due to overcrowding and many of the teaching staff complained of crowded hallways, poor air quality and hazardous conditions related to over-crowding. School is past full capacity possibly by as many as 2500 students. The following summarizes the survey findings:

1. At 11:21 at the beginning of 5th period, the second floor hallways were filled with students and the stairwells were also packed. The crowding continued to surge around that area with some limited crowding (in comparison) on the hallway near rooms 235 thru 245. The crowded hallways exceed the safe limits and impact emergency egress capacity of the school. The building was designed for far fewer occupants and this condition creates a serious emergency egress hazard. This school was not designed to safely handle the evacuation of the number of current occupants. This is a serious life safety issue and a fire code and building code violation.

2. The cafeteria allows entrance through only one door where all students swipe their cards to gain entry. A faculty member is at that door with school aides at all other exits insuring no students leave without permission. No SSAs were present at the lunch period ending at 12:08. This creates a school safety hazard, which could result in increases in crime or violence.

3. Air Quality – Levels of carbon dioxide significantly increased in the hallways during a change of classrooms between periods. Levels went from 580 ppm at the start and in two minutes increased to 1124 ppm. In classroom 146A levels of CO2 were 1020 ppm during a class with the windows open. This room was over-crowded. Levels of CO2 in room 146B were 3007 ppm. This room had al windows closed and the air conditioner on and the room was very crowded. The level of CO2 is indicative of over crowding conditions in the school. The ventilation system and the classrooms were not designed for this level of occupancy. This affects air quality, which can result in complaints of headache and fatigue. In the nearing flu season there is likely to be a significant spread of flu virus in this school given the over-crowding and the lack of sufficient ventilation. Levels of CO2 were also elevated in the cafeteria. Only a small number of classrooms were inspected and it is likely that air quality is as bad in many other rooms.

4. In the corridor outside rooms 146 A and B there are materials stored in the pathway to the exit. This obstructs egress and is especially serious in an over crowded school such as Francis Lewis HS.

5. In the school cafeteria numerous extra desks and chairs were stacked in the cafeteria blocking access to the sinks. This is a problem since students may not be able to wash up prior to eating lunch. The extra chairs are present because of the over-crowding. Given the likelihood of H1N1 flu this fall and the fact that DOE is encouraging frequent hand washing blocking access to sinks is counter-productive and unsafe.

Recommendations

This school presents a serious life safety risk due to the over-crowded conditions. There are also air quality problems that cause symptoms and may increase the risk of flu transmission. The population at the school should be reduced to a level that the school was designed to accommodate. This should be done in the near term given the serious life safety concerns.

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