PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s back to school Monday for thousands of Portland Public Schools students and teachers.
The school district is providing dispensed water to students, as drinking fountains have been turned off and covered due to high levels of lead.
Students were also asked to bring their own refillable water bottles.
A system-wide test found that 99 percent of Portland Public Schools buildings have elevated levels of lead in water sources.
“They dropped the ball early, but they reacted well. I mean, we went to the school Sunday. There’s water all over the place, so they responded well to it,” said dad Mike Morris.
Since news of the high levels was released, two district officials have been placed on leave, and there’s now a new interim Superintendent.
The district is providing its own water, covering drinking fountains, and warning kids to not drink from the sinks in bathrooms, labs, and classrooms. Students are also not allowed to eat from school gardens.
School officials are taking precautions in the kitchens as well, using pre-washed food.
“Our priority is starting with the kitchen, getting ready. By the end of the month, we hope to have the kitchen ready, and cleared in terms of the lead issue and water,” said acting CEO Yousef Awwad.
He says the next step is to figure out where the lead is coming from, and with the average school at 75 years old, it’s not going to be a cheap fix.
“It’s probably going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A bond will be really helpful in getting the resources to maintain our schools, get them back to where they need to be,” said Awwad.
The district will likely propose a $750 million bond on the May 2017 ballot, with around $200 million allotted for environmental upgrades including addressing lead issues in drinking water.