INWOOD — The Department of Education waited more than a week to send home a letter to Spanish-speaking parents at a dual-language Inwood school about their water's lead levels found during a recent test — blaming the principal for not asking for a translated version.
On Feb. 6, parents at the P.S./I.S. 176 campus, which houses Muscota New School and Amistad Dual Language School at 4862 Broadway, got a letter in their children's backpacks that the school had shown elevated levels of lead in a dozen water samples taken from classrooms, bathrooms, kitchen faucets and water fountains — including some as high as 450 times the federal threshold.
The letter was written in English — despite the fact that Amistad is a dual-language school and that many parents and students at Muscota speak Spanish.
But Spanish-speaking parents didn't get an official translated letter from the DOE until Feb. 14, after the PTA began to take it into their own hands to translate the letter. Some parents may have received a letter translated in Spanish via email on Feb. 13. The DOE also sent out a notice that day to parents about a joint meeting with the Department of Health and the DOE’s facilities division on Thursday Feb. 16 regarding “water safety.”
According to Toya Holness, spokeswoman for the DOE, the city never sent a Spanish version of the lead level test results to Muscota because it didn't request it. She said schools have to request a translation letter before the city will provide one. Amistad made the request for a translated letter on Feb 6.
"Amistad requested a Spanish version and Muscota did not request any translations," Holness said.
DOE deputy chancellor for operations Elizabeth Rose said of the translated letters last week, "We work with every school as we send them out" to ensure that the letter is translated into every language that parents need. She did not say at the time that translated letters were only distributed upon request.
According to Martha Langmuir, who has a child at Amistad, the The PTA attempted to translate the letter over the weekend, before receiving the official Spanish letter from the DOE on Monday and forwarding that to parents instead.
They were able to send the DOE version via email and said a hard copy was provided to students to take home Tuesday afternoon.
Amistad parent Prabal De said the school's PTA sent the DOE’s Spanish version of the letter by email Monday afternoon.
The Feb. 6 letters to parent detailed results of a recent test that showed two faucets from a second-floor boys’ bathroom in the building measuring a whopping 6,620 parts per billion (ppb) and 493 ppb.
No level of lead in water is considered safe, but the federal government demands action be taken whenever water is found at or above 15 ppb.
The 12 faucets inside the school building where elevated lead levels were found also included:
► The kitchen on the first floor had a faucet where the sample measured 71.1 ppb.
► The faucet in the girls’ first-floor bathroom measured 174 ppb.
► Two second-floor drinking fountains — or “bubblers” as they're called — measured 135 ppb and 148 ppb. One drinking fountain on the third floor measured 30 ppb.
► A fourth-floor classroom faucet measured 1,110 ppb.
► Three classrooms on the third floor measured 107 ppb and 641 ppb.
► Faucets from two classrooms on the first floor measured on the lower scale at 15.6 ppb and 18.2 ppb.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A day after this story was published, a DOE spokeswoman said the school requested a Spanish-language translation letter on Feb. 6, not on Feb. 10 as she originally said.