|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||Contact: Natalie Allen|
|Date: 11/20/19||Phone: 757.263.1313|
|News Release No. 015||Fax: 757.263.1010|
Virginia Beach City Public Schools responds to Congresswoman Elaine Luria's inquiry regarding water testing results
Dr. Aaron Spence, Superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, has seen a press release containing a letter addressed to him, dated November 20, from Congresswoman Elaine Luria that expressed concern about water test results that showed actionable lead levels in some drinking sites at some schools.
"No one has been or remains more concerned about the presence of lead in the drinking water within some of our schools than I am," responded Spence. "Within five hours of my being aware of these test results, our facilities team began working and has been working overtime ever since to secure, remediate and retest sites that returned lead levels exceeding EPA guidelines. Once senior leadership had knowledge of water issues, the most accurate and comprehensive information was relayed to the public in the timeliest manner possible. Delivering that information piecemeal without any context or medical guidance would have been, quite frankly, irresponsible."
The letter was copied to Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, Virginia Beach Acting City Manager Tom Leahy and VBCPS School Board Chair Beverly M. Anderson.
"Of course the congresswoman has every right to ask questions on behalf of her constituents, but to suggest VBCPS is not always working on behalf of its students and staff is troubling," said Anderson, who also learned of the letter via the press release. "Given the lack of legislative guidance around water testing in schools, we took the initiative to develop a testing protocol and have done our best to safeguard the health and safety of students and staff with little to no direction, funding or support. Although the school division does not have a duty to report according to any policy or legislation around this issue, our superintendent believed it to be the right thing to do in notifying our families. We have set an example for the Hampton Roads area regarding our transparency around this issue, and the congresswoman criticizes us for that very thing."
Since becoming aware of the issue, senior leadership has been meeting regularly with Virginia Beach Public Utilities, the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health, the Virginia Department of Health and others for guidance on water testing procedures, results and how to improve the process in the future.
"This collaboration has proven invaluable as we endeavor to best serve our students, faculty and families," said Chief Operations Officer Jack Freeman. "We would like to invite the congresswoman into this partnership and welcome her guidance and perspective as we explore the lessons learned. We intend to develop a water testing program that can serve as model for schools across the state."
Congresswoman Luria also had specific questions about the testing process and subsequent actions. These queries are listed and answered below.
1. What was the concentration, expressed in parts per billion, of lead found at each VBCPS site identified as above the EPA actionable level of 15 parts per billion?
2. What caused the delay between the "mid-September" date when the first results indicating elevated lead were found and October 25, when senior staff were notified?
3. Why was the public notified on November 6 when senior staff were notified on October 25?
4. Why did VBCPS fail to initially identify nine sites tested during the summer of 2019 as having elevated lead levels?
5. On what basis do you claim that the level of lead found in the VBCPS system is "markedly below" levels that could pose a threat to children?
6. Will VBCPS provide voluntary blood testing for lead concentration to all children, faculty, and staff attending any affected schools?
7. If elevated levels of lead are found at any VBCPS school site going forward, how quickly can parents, faculty, and staff expect to be notified? Will you commit to notifying these groups and the public within 24 hours of any new finding?
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