Our members in Detroit have joined the response to the Detroit school water crisis. Precipitated by lead and copper water test results, the Detroit school system has shut off drinking water to all schools for the foreseeable future. AFT Detroit members are organizing to make sure that their students and colleagues have access to safe drinking water for the duration of the crisis.
AFT Detroit kicked off the process by delivering bottled water to supplement water coolers at Noble Elementary-Middle School in Detroit on Tuesday. AFT locals will continue their campaign over the coming week to augment district water resources and related supplies at all public schools. Across the city, AFT Detroit—which includes the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals and the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees—rushed in with bottled water, hand sanitizer and wipes as union leaders began working with the district on a long-term plan.
Although Detroit school officials have taken some steps to address the issue, says DFT President Ivy Bailey, “the community needs assurance that students and staff will be able to function. It’s important to note that these issues are a direct result of state-led emergency management.” Our members are glad the school superintendent has agreed to meet with educators, parents and the community to address how to get safe drinking water to the schools and prevent lead from getting into the drinking water, Bailey says, adding: “We’re ready to work together to keep our educators, students and community safe.”
AFT Detroit has vowed to be involved in every step of resolving the water issue. Bailey has been in communication with the superintendent with the demand that all stakeholders be a part of developing an effective and long-term response to the issue.
As a result, the school district is assembling a task force of public health physicians, engineers and water experts with AFT locals and other stakeholders to find and fix the cause of elevated lead and copper levels. In June, the district released a report that showed it would cost $500 million to repair its buildings. About a quarter of the buildings are in unsatisfactory condition.
“Every child and every educator should be guaranteed safe drinking water at school,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “What’s happening in Detroit is the latest illustration of the harm inflicted on children and their teachers through the systemic underinvestment in Detroit public schools by the governor and state leaders. The only way to get the investment we desperately need is to elect new leaders in Michigan in November.”
Both the Detroit Public Schools Community District and Flint Community Schools have shut off drinking water inside school buildings in response to the water-quality concerns. In Detroit, the decision was made Aug. 28 after 16 schools showed unacceptable levels for copper and/or lead. In Flint, where the water was turned off in 2015, bottled water again is being provided through January as water testing continues.
Parents and AFT members say they’re not taking any chances with the danger of dehydration while temperatures remain around 90 degrees. Students will be able to use a “water pass” between classes to get bottled water as city testing continues during the indefinite shutoff.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that there is no safe level of lead exposure for young children. Even low exposure can cause learning and behavioral problems in younger children, while high levels of copper can cause vomiting, gastrointestinal issues and other health problems. The metals can enter the water of older homes or any buildings that have lead or copper plumbing and fixtures, or that are connected to the public water system with lead or copper service lines.
“AFT locals and our national AFT union are taking a proactive approach to the water crisis in Detroit because we do not want be faced with another water crisis like Flint,” says Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees President Stephanie Carreker. Adds Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals President Donna Jackson: “We do not want to repeat history and become another Flint or Puerto Rico. We need to get safe drinking water to students and school staff.”
[Annette Licitra, Amy Bahruth, Ken Coleman/AP and DFT photos]