‘Skeletal item’ found at Central High School prompts Philadelphia school district to search for remains

The Philadelphia School District appealed to its high school leaders to research their respective schools for any human skeletal remains that might have been used previously for teaching.

According to the district, the research was prompted by the recent discovery of a “human skeletal object” belonging to a Native American at Central High School.

A school district principal, who declined to be identified, told the Inquirer that the district had given principals until November 1 to complete the search.

Located in the Logan section of town, Central was founded in 1836 and is the country second oldest permanently operating public secondary school.

In a statement announcing the search for additional remains, the district said it believed the skeletal item found at Central High School had been used for teaching from the 1850s to the mid-1900s at the latest.

“No teaching collection of human skeletons has been part of the Philadelphia School District curriculum for at least a decade or more,” the statement read.

The use of skeletal remains in learning environments is not unique to Philadelphia. NPR found examples of human remains in schools in the United States and in a classroom in the United Kingdom held a funeral for a human skeleton they had already used in art class.

Locally, the Penn Museum came under fire after it was reported that Janet Monge, associate curator of the museum, had used the remains of victims killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing in an online course.

Lawyers representing the victims’ families said Monge never sought permission and that a Penn report would later accuse the academics involved of “gross callousness,” but found no breach of ethics.

For its part, the school district said its leaders understand that “all human remains deserve to be treated with dignity and respect” and acted quickly after the discovery, reaching out to the US Department of the Interior.

The district appealed to Dr Kimberly Williams, chairman of Temple University’s anthropology department, to find the best way to manipulate the skeletal element and return it to its native tribe. Williams is expected to continue working with the district if additional remains are found.

Editor Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.

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