Questions About Lead Dominate Newark Education Forum

Newark parents were frustrated about how information has been relayed regarding the elevated lead levels in schools.

By Brenda Flanagan

“That is scary. Parents don’t have a voice here in Newark, and that’s why we’re in this predicament we’re in,” said Jody Pitman.

Anxiety? Parents at Monday night’s Newark Education Forum had a lot of it, mostly about lead in the school district’s drinking water. But some felt frustrated, trying to get information.

“You’re not getting any answers — solid answers — on what we’re really doing to remediate the lead,” Pitman said.

“I wanted them to talk more about the lead, because lead testing is important with the kids and adults who drank the water from the water fountain,” said elementary school student Malcolm White Walker.

“It’s important to put info out there, but it’s not a dialogue. It’s a monologue. And I wanted more dialogue and more interaction,” said parent Viva White.

TV news cameras got locked out of the forum, which waited an hour to take audience questions.

“A lot of people still feel afraid. Should they still drink their tap water? Or should they let it run for five to 10 minutes or three to five minutes?” asked one audience member.

Mayor Ras Baraka explained the city’s bringing in bottled water and offering kids free lead blood tests while the DEP tests drinking water sources inside the state-run schools.

We asked parents if they’d had their children tested.

“Yes,” said Steve Outing. “He’s fine.”

When asked if Newark has gotten any turnaround on the blood tests on the kids and if there are any trends one way or the other, Baraka said, “I don’t know specifically yet. I know the health department is gathering that data. When we get some levels that we think set some trends, we’ll release some of that.”

The mayor’s behind a redesigned bottle bill that would put a dime deposit on recyclables and dedicate 75 percent of the proceeds toward repairing the state’s water infrastructure. The bill’s sponsor figures it could raise $15 million a year.

“We need to raise a billion to address the problem to entire crises. It’s not going to be the only solution, but it’s a small step, or even a bigger step, to creating a fund to address the situation right now at hand,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

State officials haven’t yet released test results from Newark schools. The governor has stated the lead situation isn’t a crisis, but that rubs Newark parents the wrong way.

“Lead causes brain damage and this governor is out campaigning all across the country for Donald Trump, and this is an outrage. And if it was his children, he would be here tonight,” Outing said.

Newark will continue to offer free lead blood tests for school kids every Saturday in April at four different schools around the city.

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