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School trustees want better communication on lead contamination

Number of Durham schools with exceedances down significantly since 2017

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Some Durham school board trustees are calling for better communication with families regarding lead contamination at local schools.
A recent investigation by The Toronto Star and Ryerson University journalism students revealed 2,400 schools and children care centres across the province have lead exceedances in their water.
At the latest board meeting, multiple Durham District School Board (DDSB) trustees expressed their anxiety after they were unable to answer parents’ questions.
According a staff report, there have been three DDSB schools to have lead exceedances in 2019.
Two of the schools listed are in Oshawa, Dr. S.J. Phillips Public School and Durham Alternative Secondary School. The other is Henry Street High School in Whitby.
According to the DDSB website, one water fixture at each school was effected, and will be corrected with daily flushing.
Lead exceedances with the board are down considerably from previous years, with 14 in 2018, and 27 in 2017.
Whitby Trustee Niki Lundquist said when she received calls on the matter, she wasn’t able to answer the questions of concerned parents because she didn’t know what the board was doing, if anything.
“People called upset at what they didn’t know, and I couldn’t provide a single answer because I didn’t know. I had no idea whatsoever,” she said.
She believes all trustees should have been made aware there was an issue because it was a shock when the story broke.
However, after doing some research, she admitted she was pleased with the steps being taken by the board to address this issue.
“I did some looking, and I did some examination of the regulation, and I was really pleased at what had been done, and it was gratifying to see that we had gone from so many schools that were a problem to three,” she said.
But Lundquist said she still has concerns moving forward.
“I think part of the problem we have is that we don’t have a system that proactively communicates things, including this,” said Lundquist. “So I’m going to just put that out there, because it’s not something that parents or students in schools [and trustees should become aware of through a media report.]”
Ajax trustee Patrice Barnes believes once the story broke, something should have been sent to parents as quickly as possible explaining what the region is doing.
“When something like that breaks that really affects our schools and our students, it’s imperative that we send something out to parents, whether to acknowledge it, or to let them know the steps we’re taking, or have already taken, because then that would have stopped the panic right away,” said Barnes.
Carolyn Morton, trustee for Brock, Scugog, and Uxbridge, thinks it needs to be easier for parents to find the information on the school board’s website.
“Communication is key, and you tell us that the [DDSB] has a list of exceedances, I’m not sure that everyone is able to find it [on the website],” she said.
Director of education Lisa Millar told the board she will work with the communications department going forward to get information out as quickly as possible when news breaks.
“When we’re not having a problem and something hits, you’re right, we’re not thinking of that, so I’d be pleased to work with our communication teams as we’re monitoring the media when there is a national story that’s going to bring that [attention],” Millar said.
Millar promised if a similar situation arises, trustees will be provided with information quicker.
For more information on the exceedances, visit