Will the Childhood Lead Prevention Amendatory Act of 2016 Drip Away?

Otherwise known as Bill 21-831, the lead prevention amendment act brought forth this summer by the city council, in response to the need to test for, and remediate, high lead levels in all DC public school water sources, will apparently not be voted on this council period, but will be re-introduced in January.

Why the delay?

The bill would have had DGS (the department of general services) test all water sources in DC public schools and install and maintain filters in response to the testing.

Makes sense to have one agency testing all public schools, using the same metrics for all, right? At the very least, that would avoid a panoply of testing protocols by a panoply of testing companies (and not at all charter schools), which resulted this spring in relatively few problems identified in charter schools relative to DCPS schools.

(All of which led a public witness to ask, at the council’s June hearing, how the charter board so admirably solved the issue of lead in school water sources.)

Of course, there’s a rub:

In written testimony [note: scroll down about halfway through the document at this link to get to it] for the October 6 council hearing on the bill, interim director of DGS Greer Gillis noted that having DGS go into charter facilities could be problematic, as some of those facilities are not owned by the city–and DGS thus has no authority in them.

So it is that the current version of the bill has no provision for DGS testing of water sources, or installation and maintenance of water filters, in charter schools–even those charter facilities that are leased from the city (which presumably would be OK for DGS to work in without breaking the law and/or civic sensibilities).

The details of the final bill are still being worked out by the city agencies involved, according to Christina Henderson, director of the council committee on education. She noted that by the time it’s all decided, charter schools may be given a list of approved contractors to choose from, with DGS reimbursing each charter school for the cost.

Interestingly, Gillis noted in her October 6 testimony that the charter board had already begun to solicit bids for installing water filters.

I discovered that solicitation only weeks later, through a public comment section of the charter board website, which had a note dated November 16 about the solicitation (and now, 2 weeks after it was posted, I cannot find it on the charter board website at all, except as a link on the “contact us” section).

Regardless, because of what Henderson noted was an apparent disagreement between the mayor and charter advocates on this point, the mayor gave the charter board a one-time bolus of $721,164 to cover this solicitation for water filter installation in charter schools.

That cool (and publicly unheralded) three-quarters of a million comes from the city’s contingency cash reserve. This is, you will recall, on top of the $100,000 granted to the charter board in spring, from the Healthy Schools Act fund, to cover lead in water testing in those schools this calendar year.

(Never mind that those Healthy Schools Act funds were intended for school meals and gardens–or the irony that the head of the charter board, Scott Pearson, donated nearly $100,000 of his own money since spring to politicians around the country.)

Henderson assured me that the final legislation that is B21-0831 would have a more, erm, long-term solution for charter schools, as filters need changing to remain effective.


Speaking of effective: among the good testimony I heard at that October 6 hearing, a parent at Capitol Hill Montessori, Scott Weishaar, really put the finger on lead in water issues.

Below are some of Weishaar’s excellent recommendations to the council for lead in water testing and remediation going forward:

–At each school, require school staff, parents, and students to create an agreed-upon list of all water sources, by bar code, with indications as to whether each is a source of drinking water.

–Place clear and visible signs on all water sources not used for drinking.

–Have all test results communicated at least to each school’s principal within 5 business days of receiving test results.

–Have all actions for remediation communicated to each school’s principal within 5 days of those actions.

–Publish and disseminate updated lists of water sources by bar code, listing the date of the last test; the result; whether the source has a filter and, if so, when it was installed and when it should be changed.

Let us hope these good thoughts (and more!) make it into the legislative sausage that is currently being prepared on lead in water testing and remediation in our schools.

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