SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools is providing what they say is proof the district notified parents about finding unsafe amounts of lead in some schools’ water sources in 2017.
Eight weeks after WREG requested documents, SCS officials recently provided a few emails dated Sept. 8, 2017.
The first sent to county school board members from then-superintendent Dorsey Hopson. He wrote, “I was just made aware of a serious issue involving the drinking water at several of our schools” after the district conducted some lead testing.
WREG uncovered the results from all of the 2017 tests indicating nearly 20 schools had at least one water source with lead levels considered dangerous by the EPA.
Those documents show Dunbar Elementary, Whitehaven Elementary, Westwood High and Oakhaven High and Middle had the highest amounts of lead in multiple places.
Hopson’s email stated the water fountains were “immediately shut down” and “bottles of water” were sent to schools. He also wrote Dr. Joris Ray, who is now the current superintendent, “is notifying the schools,” and “we will send out appropriate parental notifications.”
But when WREG asked several parents who claim to have had students enrolled at Dunbar in 2017, we couldn’t find one who remembered hearing about lead.
“It wasn’t reported. Nothing like that,” said parent Melvin Smith.
Back in December, WREG first asked the district for proof that notification was sent to parents. Officials told us the robocalls weren’t saved back then.
So we put in an open records request asking for emails from July 2017 to January 2018 between Hopson, board members and risk management about the tests.
Two months later, we were sent the emails, including one from board member Mike Kernell. He mentioned health officials claimed students at the affected schools were tested for lead.
He asked for the results.
WREG has not seen any documents showing his request was granted. We reached out to that now-former board member, but have yet to hear back.
What is clear is that the county health department says it does not have any records of testing students for lead in 2017.
After receiving our open records request, district officials told us they also found an email with a robocall script that would have been sent to parents. We still haven’t seen that email.
SCS said it’s also trying to figure out if students received any testing or health assessment in 2017.