Oregon’s education and health agencies are recommending that all school districts and child care programs test drinking water this summer, as part of a statewide plan to reduce student exposure to lead. The Oregon Health Authority published an advisory on June 8.
On June 21, the governor of Oregon said she plans to hold the Oregon Department of Education responsible for the environmental health of its schools with annual toxic reports.
Gov. Kate Brown proposed a draft directive that would order every public and charter school in Oregon to conduct lead testing in the water system and paint as well toxicity levels of other chemicals to ensure school buildings are safe for both students and employees.
“Every child has a right to learn in an environment that is safe. Any threat to the health and safety of a child in any school or classroom is unacceptable,” said Brown. “I am committed to ensuring Oregon school children have opportunities to thrive at school and that we are best preparing them for future success.”
School districts are expected to formulate a plan by Oct. 1, detailing the ways in which they intend to keep students and employees safe.
“Local school districts and public charter schools also have the obligation to ensure transparency and accountability to parents and communities,” Brown said. “That is why I have initiated broader action to ensure standards for health and safety are upheld in every Oregon school, and local educators regularly make that information available to the public.”
Schools districts will be required to report annually to the state and the public on the findings of their assessments.
Lead in Teachers’ Blood
The governor’s plan comes on the heels of two Portland teachers requiring medical attention after lead showed up in their blood.
Additionally, schools in the Eugene School District—Sheldon High School, Kennedy Middle School, and the Education Center—were found to have cases of elevated levels of lead in its water supply in March and April.
The exposure of lead is especially damaging to developing children and has been linked to learning disabilities and impaired hearing.
Portland Association of Teachers president Gwen Sullivan is happy with the steps Brown is taking.
“I’m glad to see the Governor and other officials in Salem responding so quickly to this environmental crisis,” Sullivan said. “Now we need to figure out how big a problem we have on our hands, how we’re going to take care of those already affected, and how we make sure this never happens again.”
Sullivan hopes the health and education of students aren’t compromised as a result of improper and inadequate funding.
“I hope the Governor and our elected leaders are prepared to back up their strong words,” Sullivan said. “So we’re not forced to choose between keeping our students safe and providing them with a great education.”
The governor’s plans will be presented to the Oregon Board of Education on June 23.