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Education Official Contradicts City on Lead-Testing Policy in Schools

By Emily Frost | September 19, 2016 3:11pm | Updated on September 19, 2016 7:48pm
 A Department of Education official denied a report in The New York Times about testing school water for lead.
A Department of Education official denied a report in The New York Times about testing school water for lead.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A little more than a week after the city admitted to flaws in the way it tested city schools' water for lead, a Department of Education official denied there were any issues with the methodology — leading local education advocates to call it a "cover-up."

Between March and June of 2016, the DOE tested every city school's water for lead levels, with contractors using a practice known as "pre-stagnation flushing" that experts say skews results and which the city said it will abandon in some cases going forward, The New York Times reported.

The contractors doing the testing reportedly came to the school buildings the night before taking the samples and ran the water for two hours. By flushing the pipes, lead level readings could read lower than they actually were, the paper said.

But a DOE official who oversees schools in District 3, which runs along the west side of Manhattan from 59th to 122nd streets, gave local education leaders a different story. 

John Hession, the DOE's deputy director of facilities for District 3, repeatedly told leaders at a recent meeting that the city had not done any flushing the night before.

"There was no incorrect testing... there was no flushing," he told Community Education Council 3 members at a meeting last Wednesday, responding to their questions regarding the Times' reporting.

"The flushing is independent of the testing... they don’t do the water flushing and then do the testing after," he said, noting that the accuracy of the tests is personal to him, as he has a son in a city public school. 

Hession did not comment directly on the story, but his remarks compared to what other DOE officials told the Times frustrated CEC members at the meeting.

"Something’s not right. It’s very difficult for anyone to have confidence right now. Confidence is kind of shattered right now," member Daniel Katz said. 

CEC 3 member Noah Gotbaum took it a step further, calling Hession's remarks "a cover-up."

"The answers are not satisfactory, they’re just not satisfactory," he said at the meeting.

The CEC asked District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul for an official response from the DOE regarding the discrepancies in procedure. 

Department spokeswoman Toya Holness said Hession had misunderstood the questions and misspoke.  

“New York City's protocols are highly protective and effective at keeping the water in schools safe for students and staff, and there are a number of ongoing proactive measures that we take, out of an abundance of caution, to ensure the continued safety of water in schools," she added.