With cameras flashing, it was certainly no average trip to the drinking fountain, as students at Astor Elementary School on Wednesday morning took the very first sips of water in more than a year.
“I think it’s good,” said fourth-grader Macy Drexler. “We used to have bottled water, but now we have these jugs that we use, but we don’t need them anymore.”
Drexler said she has some understanding of why the bottled water was so important.
She knew lead in your water could make you very sick.
The controversial problem plaguing Portland Public Schools came to a head about a-year-and-a-half ago: Outraged parents and teachers learned that top school officials knew for years about unsafe lead levels in drinking water, but didn’t immediately shut down dangerous fountains or make reports available until last year.
Since then, the district turned off drinking water to all 90 of its schools, offering bottled water and blood testing for students, and even enlisting a third-party firm to review policies and protocols for testing water and reporting results.
“We were certainly concerned when everything came out,” parent Devon Neves said. “It’s always disappointing to see that the school has had that problem for so long without (parents) knowing about it, but I feel good about how they responded.”
New superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero also attended the reopening of Astor’s drinking fountains, taking a celebratory sip.
“This is a milestone,” Guerrero said. “It’s hard for me to go back to how we got here, but one thing that I know -- our new school board, and myself as the new superintendent -- we are absolutely committed to being very forthright.”
Guerrero acknowledged the district has a long way to go. Astor is just the first of virtually every other school in the district that needs some level of lead abatement.
Another school is scheduled to reopen drinking fountains next week, and about a dozen others should have work completed within a month.
At Astor Elementary, the district said crews replaced parts of the interior and exterior pipe systems and tested the system after each step. The water was tested again before the fixtures were given final approval.
Earlier this summer, the district finished a massive project to safely contain lead paint at dozens of schools.
“Folks can expect more of the same – that we don’t sweep anything under the rug, and that we’re always upfront about anything that we may discover along the way,” Guerrero said.
The superintendent added there was some initial delays to fixing Astor’s lead issues, stemming from fully determining the scope of the project and getting bids to get the work done.
He said the district still expects to finish all lead abatement projects by the end of the school year.
Neves said she’ll be paying close attention.
“Our kids spend half of their day here, so it’s important that when they come to school that everything is safe, not from just a water standpoint, but safety all around,” Neves said.
The following schools should have fixtures replaced by mid-November: Lewis, Woodstock, Chapman, Skyline, West Sylvan, Atkinson, Richmond, Rose City Park, Sacajawea, Beverly Cleary/Fernwood, Applegate, Chief Joseph, Meek, and Hayhurst.
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