The Orleans Parish School Board has released a list of public school facilities that will get filters this fall to virtually eliminate lead from drinking fountains and kitchen taps.
The list doesn’t include nine public schools that aren’t housed in school-district buildings. But those schools will be allowed to piggyback on OPSB’s bulk purchase. At least two, ENCORE Academy and James M. Singleton Charter School, plan to do so.
Two schools weren’t on the list but should have been. A school district spokeswoman said they will be added.
“It’s safe to say all schools with kids in buildings owned by OPSB or RSD will have filters installed,” Dominique Ellis said in an email Friday.
Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A recent study concluded that reducing childhood lead exposure could save the country billions of dollars. It recommended the EPA require schools and childcare facilities to test their water supplies.
Last summer, the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board announced they were working “proactively” to assess lead risk in school water, starting with testing at 10 schools.
A testing company was lined up, the costs were estimated, and a plan was outlined. But last winter, the districts quietly abandoned it. They told us experts had advised they install water filters.
But a year after the initial announcement, the filters have not been installed.
State law says any facility where children are cared for, including day cares, must be “maintained free of lead contamination.” That includes paint, soil and water.
The law requires inspections, but it doesn’t appear to require require water tests.
New Orleans school water supplies were tested for lead in 1989, according to The Times-Picayune. But we don’t know if any testing has been conducted since.
We asked repeatedly when schools were last tested. Ellis told us the district doesn’t have any records related to testing.
The day after we reported on the decision to drop testing in favor of installing filters, district officials told school leaders that the filters will be installed this fall.
OPSB sought bids in July, saying it was looking to buy at least 299 filter systems to remove lead from drinking fountains and kitchen water supplies.
But last week the school district couldn’t tell us exactly how many schools would get filters. We got the list Wednesday, a week after we first inquired.
The list includes 87 district-owned buildings, 80 of which are currently occupied. The others are vacant or undergoing renovations; most are scheduled to be occupied in the fall of 2018.
It includes facilities that aren’t their own schools, so it doesn’t correspond to the 86 public schools in the city.
Almost all of them are charters, which are publicly funded but privately run. Selecting a facility is among the many freedoms granted to charter schools in exchange for meeting academic and financial goals.
Most occupy district-owned buildings. Some charters share a building; others are so large they have multiple campuses. Some charters rent from organizations such as churches.
Bricolage Academy leases a Catholic school as it waits for a district-owned building to be renovated. Founder Josh Densen said they found no problems when the water was tested at the temporary site.
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, which is housed in a state-owned building, has had water filters for at least a decade, President Kyle Wedberg said.
Some charter school administrators said they didn’t feel the need to test for lead given the districts’ plans to install filters.
One leader asked the district about lead testing this summer because she didn’t know about the plan for filters. Another said she first heard of the district’s plan last week.
The Orleans Parish School Board will pay for the filter systems and installation, but schools will be responsible for changing the filters.
Bids were due Monday, but the district extended the deadline to next week.