Students at risk: Lead levels increase in Okemos public school classrooms

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Okemos Public Schools have increased lead levels in their classrooms. The situation puts students and teachers at risk and disappoints parents. Several people expressed disheartenment about the situation at a school board meeting with the Okemos Public Schools Board of Education.  

“I am concerned for the safety of my students with the mold and lead that has been found in the classroom. They are only three and four years old,” said Haley Blake, the lead teacher of the younger enrichment program at Okemos Public School.

According to Michigan Advance, initial water testing at the Okemos Public Montessori (OPM) building, located at 4406 Okemos Road in Meridian Township, revealed lead levels of five parts per billion (ppb) in one area and nine ppb in another. However, subsequent testing on Dec 5, 2023 , verified that one room in the building tested at 49 ppb. 

While this matter should have been the topmost priority of the school, it has been going on for more than three months now. 

“They tested for the mold originally back in October and I got my carpets replaced over winter break, but they found more mold and did more cleaning,” said Blake. 

Parents and Teachers are scared and cannot stop worrying about their three-year-olds who have been directly exposed to mold and lead and their health has been compromised.  Blake said she had to speak up after a much-anticipated change, attending her first meeting and confronting the board herself.  “This is the first meeting I attended; these kids don’t have a voice to speak up for themselves. I appreciate some of the parents to come to the meeting to help give the children a voice, but I knew what I needed to do,” she said

Parents expressed their concerns, specifically talking about their children’s health and testing.  

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“We became aware of the lead in the water, but it hadn’t affected our room, and we did find out about the mold in December and last week we were told that the surfaces had been tested and have become positive for lead.” said Cortney Block, a nurse and a parent of a three-year-old student, studying in the enrichment program. “The impacts of lead poisoning on young children is lifelong, and there is not any amount of ‘I’m sorrys’  and ‘we’ll clean it ups’ that will change the impact of how much danger our children are exposed to,” she said. 

The issue doesn’t just harm all those around but also deprives them of their learning experience.  

“I am in a different room and do not have access to my teaching materials that are in my classroom along with children’s bedding and shoes just to make sure it’s safe.” said Blake.  

There is a spectrum of reactions among people; while some express anger and disappointment, others are open to understanding the situation and collaborating with the board.

“The district is actively seeking short-term solutions to our challenges, acknowledging the gravity of these test results. As a member of the Okemos Public School Montessori committee, I’m eager to address immediate needs. Yet, on behalf of OPM, we urge a serious dialogue on long-term solutions. Staying in our current building without planning for sustainable improvements is not a viable option,” said Kelly Bertilrud, a third and fourth-grade teacher, who appealed to the board and voiced her concern, emphasizing the district’s efforts to find short-term solutions to address immediate problems.

While no sudden action plans have been made so far, the urges of the speakers may spark a new hope for the children of Okemos Public School. 

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