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Delaware Senate Democrats

Join us in working to ensure our schools are safe for students and educators

October 22, 2022

By Sen. Stephanie Hansen and Rep. Debra Heffernan |

Like many Delaware parents, we were horrified to read about the discovery of lead in the water supplies of some of our public schools. While it was some comfort to know that many of the results came from non-drinking water outlets, it raised questions of why we didn’t know about this earlier and what do we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

We didn’t know about this earlier because there previously was no statewide requirement to test water once it has entered the pipes of a school’s water system unless the local district has taken it upon itself to test. And not all districts have done that testing. Additionally, there were no statewide standards about which fixtures to test, what to test for, how often to test, and what to do with the results.

Testing for water quality in our schools isn’t the only blind spot. In fact, the only standard testing that all schools must do is the inspection for asbestos every six months as required under federal law.

But all of that has just recently changed.

For the last five years, we have been working with Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware Department of Education, superintendents, and others to put in place a statewide requirement for school building assessments and reporting across 16 different categories, including water quality, mechanical systems, gas leaks, sewer, electric, fire safety, pests and vermin, cleanliness, hazardous materials, structural damage, and visible mold and mildew.

The bill incorporating all of this, including a requirement for the development of an indoor air quality program, was Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 270, which the General Assembly passed in June and Governor John Carney just signed into law.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 270 creates the very first uniform standards in Delaware for evaluating the physical condition and air quality at schools across our state. Our main concern when we introduced this bill in April was mold, but clearly mold was only one issue that needed to be addressed. Through the foresight of my colleagues and the team that worked on this legislation, we broadened the focus of the legislation to reach as many of the vital systems within our school buildings as possible.

DOE must now work with the Division of Public Health, the superintendents, experts and others to develop the Facilities Evaluation Instrument by January 1, 2024. This common standard of good repair, inspection and assessment will make sure every school district is inspecting every school building on the same schedule across 16 categories.

Then, on an annual basis, each school district must present the completed inspection findings and assessments at a public school board meeting.  Each spring, every superintendent must then submit a report of the findings along with a repair plan to DOE and the Legislature and make health risks discovered during those inspections publicly accessible on the district’s website.

We believe this is a much better vehicle for getting funding to the schools that need repairs the most. But knowing where the priorities are is only half the battle. The real solution, as always, is funding.

While our Joint Capital Improvement Committee did a fantastic job of doubling the funding for school minor capital improvements in the last budget cycle, we need to continue that progress over several years if we’re going to make a dent in the number of schools struggling with leaky roofs, poor air quality and unsafe water.

Democracy demands participation. Your support and your advocacy will go a long way to helping ensure our schools are once again healthy, clean, and safe environments for our educators and our children.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen is the chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and member of the Senate Health and Social Services Committee. Rep. Debra Heffernan is the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, chair of the Joint Capital Improvement Committee and a member of the House Education Committee.