RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Keeping kids safe in schools is a top priority for parents and educators.
A massive new project was unveiled Wednesday that will have leaders spending millions of dollars to search for environmental hazards in classrooms and cafeterias.
Every drinking fountain, kitchen sink and classroom wall in 3,100 North Carolina schools will now be tested for health hazards.
“Our children are eating and drinking there and, you know, they spend the majority of their waking hours there,” said Wake County mom, Jennifer Brock.
State health leaders are working with the Department of Public Instruction and RTI International, a local non-profit research group, for the “Clean Classrooms for Carolina Kids.”
It’s a similar program to one launched a couple of years ago. That program focused on water lead levels in childcare facilities.
A new North Carolina rule, effective April 1, 2023, allowed the use of $150 million from the American Rescue Plan to test for lead in water, lead in paint and asbestos in schools.
Testing at this magnitude has not been done before.
“Our children need to stop being put on the back burner for our future, whether it’s lead or asbestos,” added Brock.
Officials revealed they’re prioritizing what schools will get the testing done first.
They plan to start with elementary schools, schools with more than half the population on free and reduced lunch, and schools that were built prior to 1988.
“We’re assuming about 59 percent of schools will require on site visits for asbestos,” leaders explained during a presentation to DPI on Wednesday afternoon.
School staff will collect water samples on their own. Certified inspectors will do on-site checks for lead paint and asbestos.
Parents will be able to check the results online through an already existing portal that was used for the “Clean Water for Carolina Kids” program.
Crews will work to get rid of the hazards as fast as they can.
“When we find lead in a tap that’s above the safe level, we will restrict access,” officials said during the meeting.
The funding includes the testing and mitigation efforts for lead in water.
“In most cases, faucet fixture replacement and water filters are effective in stopping exposure,” leaders said.
Schools will have to front local tax money to take care of other repairs, and district leaders can apply for two-thirds reimbursement.
“We’re really not sure if we’re going to have enough money to strip every wall and tile of asbestos,” health officials said. “We’re expecting at least $50 million for lead based paint and asbestos abatement.
Parents told CBS 17 they just want answers.
“I need to get more educated myself in the side effects and how that affected my children and then talk with medical professionals and go from there,” Brock said.
The project is expected to take until the end of November 2026 to complete. No official testing date has been set.