School Board's lead-testing vote is troubling

Nancy Moldenhauer

High levels of dangerous lead in children can result in lower IQs, reduced academic performance, lower state test scores, and compromised career outcomes for lower lifetime wages. Behavioral consequences could include shorter attention spans, poor impulse control, ADHD, and juvenile incarceration.

Does this sound like something our Michigan City Area School Board members should be concerned about and interested in preventing? Per the vote of three in favor and four against to require dangerous lead level testing upon kindergarten enrollment, one would think not.

In contrast, Michigan City’s Committee on Lead, which includes School Board member Deborah Chubb, has been working to tackle the lead issue, which impacts our ready and trained workforce for future economic growth. The City Council voted to spend $420,000 as a cash match for the federal grant should our community be awarded the $2.3 million HUD Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction funding to educate families, remediate homes built before 1978 with lead paint, train residents to work with families, and safely perform home repairs. 

Getting more than 15 percent of children tested, and collecting harmful lead level data is important in obtaining and implementing remediation. Our city’s Water Department cooperatively worked with the Lead Committee, agreeing to mail lead awareness flyers in water bills to customers six times. The same committee continues to work with local churches and organizations to provide information about lead exposure; and Chubb has developed recommendations for the City Council to help reduce lead exposure.

So how could our School Board last week pass on an opportunity to be a bridge and partner with our city to raise the number of children being tested for lead poisoning by making it a kindergarten enrollment requirement to provide lead screening results along with immunization records? 

Lead tests can be done at the same location, same time as immunizations, and at no cost by the nurse. How shouldn’t they understand the significance of this problem and why wouldn’t they listen to the ongoing discussion with their fellow board member? They were provided a full presentation on the issues of lead poisoning in January 2018 by the Lead Committee, while Chubb presented the statewide legal basis for the policy, which accommodates religious exemptions and school discretion for enforcement.

What would require MCAS to set up a data system to keep lead level records? Presenting test results adds no additional data collection responsibility or liability since all lead screening test data is collected by the La Porte County Health Department from the agency conducting the test.

If you are wondering too, I would recommend asking your board members who voted against. Those four votes were cast by President Don Dulaney, Vice President Marty Corley, secretary Theresa Edwards, and Thomas Dombkowski. Kindly contact these public servants if you are concerned by their vote. The three votes in favor were cast by Chubb, Beth Pishkur and Beryle Burgwald. Please let them know you appreciate them keeping our kids’ futures first and foremost. I publicly offered to discuss lead issues with board members when I attended their meeting.

If you’ve ever considered running for school board, the election is in November with a deadline of August 24 to file a petition. Individuals who not only care about but love kids should consider running, especially those who understand the importance of schools, government, and businesses working collaboratively to create a positive vision for our future.

Also, it’s not too late for this current school board to take up this issue as soon as their next board meeting, hold a discussion with public input about being a partner in increasing test numbers, then vote again.

Nancy Moldenhauer is a community advocate, former classroom teacher and retired instructor of English Language Learning students with MCAS.

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