11 schools haven't followed water rule

85 percent in city system complied with order, says health commissioner

March 27, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

A month after city schools were ordered to shut off drinking fountains and to alert students and staff that sinks are to be used only for hand-washing, at least 11 schools hadn't complied as late as yesterday.

Speaking at an emergency hearing called by City Council President Sheila Dixon, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner, reported that officials in his office were finishing up inspections of 51 schools that had failed once to meet a Feb. 26 order intended to protect children from possible lead contamination.

More than 85 percent of city schools were found to be in compliance with the order, but at least 11 schools were in violation, Beilenson said. Six schools remain to be checked.

With council members, school officials, parents and advocates as his audience, Beilenson expressed frustration that his office is having to make sure that schools aren't operating drinking fountains.

"We are using food inspectors to go around and check these schools," he said. "This is not our job. This is the schools' facilities [managers'] job. We are using huge amounts of our resources."

Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo said she and school board members take the safety of students and staff seriously and are working hard to comply.

The system has installed 2,000 bottled-water coolers so that students have safe water to drink, Russo said. About 14,000 signs have been posted, and some 3,500 water fountains have been disabled, or about 97 percent compliance, she said.

Where schools still are in violation, Russo said, "it doesn't mean that nothing has been done to those fountains. ... It means that we've had some disparities in the interpretation of the order."

Complying with Beilenson's order is costing the system $700,000 a year, Russo said.

"Which is not a concern, even though we're in a deficit," she said.

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