Boston Public Schools – The latest stop in the lead poisoning of children

If you feel that Boston’s elected and school officials should be held to a higher standard than what has transpired in Flint, MI, please read through to the end. Boston public school students have been being exposed to lead at school for months. Last week on April 26th, it was reported that there were four schools had dangerous lead levels in a water fountain. These schools included Boston Latin Academy, Murphy K-8, Kenny Elementary school & the Hernandez K-8 School. Parents were notified via a robocall. At the school committee meeting on April 27th, a teacher from the Hernandez and parent gave a heartbreaking testimony regarding her drinking for years from one of the contaminated fountains including while pregnant. She said she will know always question if her son’s Autism is at all linked to the excessive exposure while in utero. Mary Battenfield then presented a plan proposed by parents asking for transparency, how to assist families in testing for exposure and tracking those students to address any issues that arise in the future among other policy suggestions.

They were followed by Kim Rice, Director of Operations and Jill Carter, Executive Director, Department of Health and Wellness. Here is a link to the video. I’ve transcribed portions of the testimony to highlight the tone of the presentation.

Water policy testimony and questioning begins at approximately 1:19:45

KR – 100% of the schools have been tested. This was not a sampling. Everyone can be clear that all the water they are drinking in the buildings is good drinking water. In all schools. They are either off line meaning fountains are not on and there are water bubblers, in a lot of instances they are even on line with water bubblers – there are multiple water sources within the building.

We made sure that 100% of our water that is accessible is good drinking water.

 JC – I also want to highlight one piece. The idea for testing all of these schools and getting students back to drinking as much water as they need, the reason why we found in these schools is because we had this strong push and vision to make sure that all our students have access to drinking water. And so we found these things because we were going above and beyond to test everything and because we didn’t want to make a plan without knowing. ….. If we are going to have trust with the community that we are doing the best we can, to make sure that they have access not just to water but to safe water.

KR: This has been a good learning experience in terms of communication protocols.

Towards the end of the discussion, Dr. Chang praised their efforts. “I want to make one commendation. When we found out every fountain wasn’t being tested annually, this team immediately insisted that we needed to test every water fountain.

Later that evening (at like 10:30 pm) Boston Schools, via twitter confirmed that 34/38 fountain tests returned below the EPA action limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

Fast forward one week and we get the news that Oops, nope, four more schools.  Now parents at the Curley School, Mather Elementary, Lee K-8 School & Another Course to College. These are four more schools that had water in “on-line” fountains that had levels the EPA considered dangerous. These fountains were working for somewhere between a few hours to a few weeks. BPS knew in December that some fountains tested higher than acceptable at The Mather Elementary School and turned off the water. Kim Rice met with staff on January 29th to discuss the water situation. But didn’t notify school families until February 12th. In addition, the families were told not to worry, there were no health risks associated with the elevated levels. BPS was just being proactive by turning off those fountains. If she knew about the issues at the Mather, why did she not include it in last week’s count of schools impacted by elevated levels of lead.

Fortunately, I guess, my daughter’s school doesn’t have working water fountains so she’s being drinking bubbler water all year. Gratefully she is having a wonderful experience at her school. I fully believe the staff has her and all the students best interests in mind every day.

However, at this point, I’ve lost all confidence in the Central Office administration. Between the Finance Departments inability to answer basic questions at City Council hearings regarding their budget (I’ll be writing about this soon), to the misinformation presented at the School committee last week, I’m not sure if they are poorly prepared, misinformed, disingenuous or flat out lying.

What I do know is this. This ongoing would never be tolerated in the suburbs. Parents have been communicating their frustration with the Mayor, Superintendent Chang and our City Council members.  Does anyone with any clout in this city care about our kids enough to stand up to the Mayor and the behind the scenes ed reformers driving his agenda and say enough is enough? If you live in outside Boston and wouldn’t tolerate this in your schools, please join with the families of Boston and demand better facilities for every student in the state regardless of zipcode. Contact Governor Baker (and demand that he address this growing health situation.

We were told on Monday night by Mayor Walsh – “hold tight, trust us”. Well I for one, will no longer hold tight. Nor do I trust you.



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