In a classic “no-good-deed-goes-unpunished” scenario, the Highland Park School District is being penalized for doing the right thing – immediately testing for elevated lead levels all the faucets and drinking fountains in all the schools for elevated lead levels. The district at its own expense of approximately $2,000 implemented the testing before the state of New Jersey mandated that all districts had to test and before the state made available $10 million for reimbursement of those tests. The reimbursement to the districts for testing is applied only going forward, not retroactively.
After years — maybe decades — of questions about whether students were drinking lead-contaminated water, New Jersey has moved quickly to put in place new requirements for testing every faucet and drinking fountain of every school. The State Board of Education two weeks ago approved fast-tracking new regulations requiring every district to have its water tested within 365 days and to make the results public.
According to the Christie administration, however, the state’s $10 million in reimbursement for schools would be denied to those districts that may have rushed to test their schools in the winter and spring. (see: NJ Spotlight article: New Jersey Schools Must Test Every Faucet and Drinking Fountain for Lead
Board President Darcie Cimarusti summed up the situation. “While I commend the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for putting these regulations forward, and the State Board of Education for fast tracking them, it is unfortunate that districts that responded with a similar sense of urgency, such as Highland Park, will be ineligible for reimbursement.
“When the Newark results became public, the Highland Park School Board and administration agreed — this was not an issue for a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. We took immediate, proactive steps to ensure the safety of our students by conducting the testing.”
Based on the results, the district was able to remediate the single fountain (at the Irving Elementary School) that was found to contain elevated lead levels. The district then implemented a free lead-testing program in mid-June. All children exposed to the fountain for the past five years were tested.
According to Superintendent Scott Taylor, “all of the students tested had normal levels! Three parents emailed me directly after taking their children for blood tests independently and indicated that their kids had normal levels as well. Doing all of this before the school year ended allowed us to have access to the kids who needed testing. We did the right thing – and would do it again. The health/well-being of our students is the highest priority.”
Board President Cimarusti added: “Come September we can open our doors knowing that the drinking water in our buildings is safe for our school community. I urge the state to reconsider the decision to deny reimbursement to districts that acted swiftly and appropriately.”