‘Fake news at its worst:’ city manager responds to parent concerns about water safety

City Manager Jim Thomas called fake news on complaints and photos posted by parents regarding brown water at Claremore Public Schools last week.

Students in Claremore High School baseball, football and band practices told their parents about ‘undrinkable’ and ‘gross’ water coming from water fountains and mucking up water jugs Monday and Tuesday August 19 and 20.

Parents took to social media to share their photos and complaints.

Thomas responded to those posts saying, “This is 100% false information. I talked with the superintendent of public schools in Claremore and this is fake news at its worst. City engineer has confirmed this with a tour of the junior high school.”

Among the parents who voiced concerns about water quality at the schools were Tia Henson, Laurie McElwain, and Anna Roberts.

Henson experienced the issue first hand when she went up to the school Monday to help her son with water duties after band practice.

“I dumped the water that day and the bottom of the water jug was black due to whatever being in the water settling at the bottom,” Henson said. “On Tuesday my son filled the jugs and said it was so brown he hated to even give it to the band.”

McElwain said, “My son told me that he and his baseball team players had no water to drink during and after practice for the first days of school until a parent finally brought them bottled water.”

Baseball practice lasts from 1:55 to 4:30 p.m. and occasionally runs later. Coaches reportedly told the students to drink from water bottles when the water is brown.

Roberts shared photos taken at the junior high Tuesday of a water fountain with an out of order sign and rust-colored water leaking from the spout.

Another parent shared a photo their child took of the water jug at football practice.

CPS Superintendent Bryan Frazier said, “following the post on Facebook we were notified by phone from three additional parents regarding the color of the water in the water fountains. One indicated the water at one of the athletic practices was brown as well. That morning we visually inspected all the fountains and sinks at all our sites including our athletic buildings. That morning and all the mornings following the water was clear.”

Around 10 days ago, Frazier said, the high school band director noticed brown water coming from the sink in the concession stand where students were filling bottled water.

“He asked them to run the water out a while to see if it would clear and it did not. He said he told them we can't allow students to drink this water today,” Frazier said. “The following day the water was clear and has been since.”

On Tuesday, city officials visited the two sites on the junior high and high school campuses that were mentioned by parents to perform a visual inspection of the water. On Wednesday they returned and took samples for testing.

“I am waiting on the full test results,” Frazier said. “I was only notified that there were no signs of bacteria.”

In the event that the water is found unsafe to drink, Frazier said, “We will discontinue usage of course, if deemed unsafe water bottles would be brought in for student usage. The kitchen would be the biggest hurdle, because of the water in cooking. We would most likely bring water in to cook or alter the menu.”

“The safety of our students and staff is always our number one goal. That is what I want our parents to know,” Frazier said. “We will continue to monitor the water and do everything we can to make sure every student is safe and the water is safe to drink.”

While the district will continue to monitor water quality daily, Frazier is asking students, parents and school faculty to keep an eye out as well.

“We are watching the water color daily, as homeowners do, if we see any discoloration in the water we will immediately contact the city and discontinue usage. It is important that when a student or adult sees the discoloration they contact either site administration, teacher, coach, sponsor or call central office,” he said.

Frazier also said he is checking with other school districts to see if they have a water testing procedure as a model for a policy that could be put in place at CPS.

“I want to emphasize that the safety of our students is priority one, if there are any concerns whether water or anything else please contact the site admiration or central office. We will do our due diligence and investigate all issues, but please notify us immediately,” Frazier said. “I have met with one of the concerned parents in a meeting it was a positive and productive. We all want our students to be safe.”

When asked if he stood by his comments Thomas told the Progress, “I had a conversation with the superintendent of schools, and he said to me on that particular day there was no brown water. I sent the city engineer down. He went down there and there was no brown water. We have had the water tested at the junior high and I’ve gotten verbal reports that convey that there is no bacteria in the water.”

Addressing a concern voiced online of hard metals in the water, Thomas said the city does not have any lead lines and that any lead appearing in people’s homes would be the result of their personal lines.

Public Works Director Jonah Humes affirmed those details, adding that there is no lead in Claremore Lake, and that while trace amounts of lead were found during site testing in 2013, they were well below the standard for concern set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m four blocks from the water plant and I had brown water,” Thomas said, when Manganese levels in the lake kicked up again around August 8.

“If these parents have that fear, then I need to put it to bed once and for all,” Thomas said. “There is no bacteria and two people that I have a lot of respect for have told me there is no brown water.”

“The city’s goal is to produce water and provide it to the citizens, the businesses, the schools and the churches,” Thomas said. “That’s what we do.”

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