Jaclyn Bruner had no idea water fountains in College Park’s Hollywood Elementary School were shut off until she heard from her five-year-old son’s kindergarten teacher.
“A note from the classroom teacher said our water bottle shipment is late and you need to make sure and send them with extra water. And we were like ‘what are you talking about?” Bruner said. “That’s when it came to parents’ attention last year.”
Bruner, the president of Hollywood’s Parent Teacher Association, is one of several parents in Prince George’s County Public Schools with ongoing concerns about the county’s communication about clean water accessibility. Parents allege communication from PGCPS has been unreliable so far.
Lead in two of Hollywood’s 20 tested water sources exceeds federal allowances, according to the school’s latest water samples from December 2022 that were released in September. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, samples exceed the federal allowances if they contain more than 15 parts per billion of lead.
Drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s exposure to lead, according to the EPA.
Children are more vulnerable to lead’s physical and behavioral effects than adults, according to the EPA. Low lead exposure levels can cause behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth and anemia. In rare cases, lead ingestion can lead to seizures, comas and death.
PGCPS has had issues with lead contamination in its water for more than a decade. District water source tests from 2004 revealed lead levels in approximately 90 percent of water samples were above EPA lead allowances. EPA guidelines mandate that the district informs parents of a possible plan to reduce lead levels.
Lead testing results for Hollywood and other PGCPS schools are available on the district’s website. But Bruner said PGCPS test results are often hard to read.
“I shouldn’t have to spend hours trying to decipher all of this,” Bruner said. “It should be obvious whether or not my kid has safe drinking water.”
Hollywood and other area schools receive shipments of bottled water, PGCPS confirmed.
The water bottle shipments are a pandemic-era measure from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, Briggs said. Funding from this federal initiative will end in September 2024 and is unrelated to water quality at Hollywood, he added.
District 2 PGCPS school board member Jonathan Briggs said Hollywood’s water sources are much better than other schools in his district.
Briggs found a water fountain that was not operational on a recent school visit, but most grades had access to drinkable water in their classrooms, he said.
PGCPS did not respond to a request for comment about the nonoperational water fountain or water bottle shipments.
Briggs said at least three other schools in the area suffer from water supply issues, including Dora Kennedy French Immersion School in Greenbelt, which has one water filtration system serving the school’s 600-plus student population, he said.
PGCPS’ lead testing results for Dora Kennedy signaled that none of the school’s water sources contained lead above the EPA allowances.
Still, some parents have concerns about other water issues.
Christina Toy, whose child attends Dora Kennedy, said the school’s principal has put in work orders asking for water coolers on each floor of the school that have yet to be completed..
The final phase of PGCPS’ water quality program, which was completed in January 2018, was intended to install filtered water systems in all schools.
Toy said she believes schools are responsible for providing clean drinking water.
“I am all for donating and supporting my son and the public schools,” Toy said. “I’m not going to spend my money supplementing PGCPS when I already pay tax dollars.”
Toy and Briggs called for more transparency from PGCPS. They feel the situation at Hollywood, including the reasons for students receiving bottled water, has been miscommunicated, Briggs said.
“Concerned parents are concerned parents,” Briggs said. “I think it’s a matter of applying a little bit of attention on the communication.”
PGCPS did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the alleged lack of communication.
College Park resident Aubrey Batten, a soon-to-be parent whose children may attend Hollywood, said he reconsidered sending his children to PGCPS because of Hollywood’s lack of communication.
“If we can’t even be clear about the basic safety of things like drinkable water in the schools, then I can’t trust the organization to keep my children safe,” Batten said. “I have every right to know if the school’s not meeting their safety obligations.”
Toy said Briggs has been more receptive to parent concerns about water than past school board representatives. Still, the district hasn’t helped, she said.
“They are good at saying ‘I hear your disappointment,’ or ‘I hear your concern, let me look into it,’” Toy said. “It’s a lot of words and no action.”