More than 50 water fountains have been shut off in Hammond schools due to high lead levels. Teachers say fewer fountains and faulty air conditioning makes it difficult for kids to learn.
Morton High School English teacher Lupe Ramirez says it’s been about 92 degrees inside her classroom since mid August. She's been measuring the temperature with equipment from the science teachers.
“It’s sort of unlivable to be there all day. I know I get home at the end of the day feeling sick and I’m an adult,” she says.
At least three Hammond schools need cooling repairs — Morton High School, Scott Middle School and Eggers Middle School. The district is awaiting a report to see if there are others.
Hammond schools still have some water fountains available, as well as water coolers filled from taps it expects are safe. But Ramirez says because of the lead, kids don’t trust any water from the schools.
The School City of Hammond was originally planning to provide schools with bottled water, but decided not to. Superintendent Walter Watkins says the district was unsure of the quality of the water in those bottles.
"We just felt that if we used our own water coolers and provide the cups for kids we can forgo any conversation about what's actually in those cups," says Watkins
He says the district is giving schools the option to limit physical activity and providing some classrooms with fans — which some teachers argue are too loud to talk over.
“But, you know, our concern right now is trying to keep the conditions, the temperature conditions in the classroom at bay,” says Watkins.
The district recently retested fixtures that showed high lead levels because, prior to this preliminary test, none had shown high levels of lead. Watkins says he hopes to have those results any day now.
The School City of Hammond did not sign up for the statewide lead testing program through the Indiana Finance Authority. It chose to do it's own testing through hiring an outside firm. The district chose not to test buildings built after 1986 for lead.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.