When in doubt, tell the truth; then, and only then, let the chips fall where they may … and let the public respond as it might.Sage advice.Yet, the leadership within Bradley County Schools chose to …
When in doubt, tell the truth; then, and only then, let the chips fall where they may … and let the public respond as it might.
Yet, the leadership within Bradley County Schools chose to ignore it in the recent debacle over water-quality testing — and reporting the results of that testing — that revealed unacceptably high levels of lead, as defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, in drinking water sources in eight schools.
Refusing to identify the facilities, Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash told a Cleveland Daily Banner reporter she did not want to create a public panic by divulging the names of those affected schools.
For the record, as we have already reported, they are Bradley Central High, Charleston Elementary, Hopewell Elementary, Lake Forest Middle, Michigan Avenue Elementary, North Lee Elementary, Prospect Elementary and Valley View Elementary.
All were constructed prior to Jan. 1, 1998; hence, drinking water tests were required in all as specified by Tennessee Public Chapter 977, enacted Jan. 1.
The Banner came about the school names, and certain other details regarding the water testing, after — and only after — filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The county school system complied shortly after the filing.
This is about two issues: Our children's safety and the people’s right to know.
Let us refer to a recent electronic survey conducted by this newspaper in which we received 93 respondents, all but one of whom were a parent or guardian of Bradley County Schools students.
Asked if they felt they had been adequately notified about the water-quality test results, some 89.25% answered “no.” The majority — 55.56% — said they learned about the lead testing results from Cleveland Daily Banner news articles.
Parents were mixed on whether they believed Bradley County Schools adequately removed or repaired the drinking water sources from which water samples tested positive. Some 29.03% answered “yes,” 38.71% replied “no,” and 32.26% said they were “unsure.”
Here’s a comment from one of the “unsure” votes: “I would assume so, however, given that we were only notified after a FOIA request and public reporting, I have little confidence in transparency.”
Another comment: “They say they did, but we also weren’t told about the issue and what schools it affected until the paper told us. I’m hoping they did and aren’t just saying that they did.”
Michael Cuzzort, the parent of a child attending Hopewell Elementary, is one parent who reached out to our newspaper in person.
“With anything moving forward, if it’s safety-related in any way, I feel like parents should be notified,” he said in an interview. “Even if one child is affected, we should be notified. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, no amount of lead is safe. We want that peace of mind.”
Another weighed in, as well.
“In matters of health and safety, school officials should always be transparent in first notifying both parents and employees of any dangers within the school and the actions taken to correct the problems,” reader Jennifer McDougal commented on the Banner’s Facebook page. “From reading comments as well as the article, it seems as if this is the first knowledge of any lead problems parents have heard about.”
A sampling of comments, or excerpts from comments, from the survey reveals heightened concerns:
• “… All lead tests should be publicly available as soon as they can be verified. Why was this process not made public? Why did it take a FOIA request? How are we supposed to feel confident that the county will act with transparency going forward?”
• “Could it be anywhere else in the school that my kids are drinking? … I am disappointed that we weren’t told earlier when it happened.”
• “Find it disconcerting that Dr. Linda Cash refused to identify the schools that were affected until you filed the FOIA request.”
• “While I understand they were trying to keep the community calm, it has done the opposite. We (parents) feel cheated and lied to by a generally ‘good’ school system that we previously had confidence in.”
• “While I appreciate the ‘free food’ aspect we receive, I would like (excessive) reassurance that our children are not being served a side of lead with their Salisbury steak moving forward.”
• “How long [have] our children been drinking this contaminated water?”
• “I am having my daughter tested. [It’s] absolutely ridiculous that our schools didn’t let the parents know about this and we had to rely on outside sources to let us know.”
• “My daughter was a four-year student at Lake Forest. Last year, her last year at LF, she started having headaches almost daily up until this day.”
These comments serve as only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more.
No, it’s not just us. Parents, and the community, are concerned, too. They have the right to know, and to be kept informed.
For public entities wishing to keep the people’s trust, transparency is everything. Just be open. Just tell the truth.
When Cleveland City Schools receives the results of its water-quality testing, we urge a greater accountability than that displayed by their crosstown counterparts.
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