Knox County Schools already tests for safe water

Sandra Clark

Last week’s story about legislation introduced by state Rep. Rick Staples implied a problem with drinking water in public schools since Staples wants to require school systems to test it. His bill (HB0631) was scheduled to be heard by the House Education & Administrative Planning subcommittee on Tuesday, March 28.

Meanwhile, we checked with state and local agencies to clarify the current status of school water, especially in schools built before June 19, 1986, when the federal lead ban took effect.

Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson Shelley Walker refused to comment on pending legislation.

She confirmed the state Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) handles issues related to drinking water.

“Environmentalists with our Division of Environmental Health do inspect the food service operations in schools and conduct inspections of school plants for sanitation and safety requirements. Inspections of school plants are made two times per year in most counties, but some counties have requested not to be inspected. You can contact your local county education department for further information.”

Russ Oaks, chief operating officer for Knox County Schools, said the local system has been proactive in testing water.

“Working with Knoxville Utilities Board in 2007, we surveyed all schools and remediated as required.”

KUB tested water samples from schools in its service area and KCS hired a private lab to test samples from other water districts. “Some marginal readings came back,” but nothing involving pipes. Remediation included replacing a faucet or water cooler.

“Recognizing this isn’t static, we can have deterioration over time, (KCS) decided to test water regularly,” Oaks said. Twenty percent of schools are tested annually, meaning every school will be tested every five years. Oaks said school staff pull 10 samples at each school, focusing on drinking water. So is the water safe?

“Our (testing) actions are proactive and prudent. Everywhere we check, we ensure that it’s safe. KUB has been great working with us,” Oaks said.

Thomas is new super

Contract negotiations are underway between Bob Thomas and the Knox County Board of Education, after the board’s unanimous selection of Thomas as the district’s next superintendent of schools. He will replace Buzz Thomas (no relation), who served as interim superintendent for a year.

Buzz Thomas will return to his role as director of Great Schools Partnership.

Bob Thomas is a longtime Fountain City resident whose wife, Beckye Justice Thomas, was choral director at Central High School. Their son, Brandon, graduated from Central High School and UT. Bob Thomas taught at Bearden and Rule high schools. He has been an assistant superintendent since 1990.

Rezoning meetings

KCS will hold two public meetings to discuss the plan for middle school rezoning before it goes to the school board in May. The rezoning will take effect in August 2018 as new middle schools at Hardin Valley and Gibbs are opened.

The meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at Holston Middle School and Tuesday, April 11, at Hardin Valley Academy.

The draft plan is available at It adjusts zones for Farragut, Karns, Holston, Carter, Vine and South-Doyle middle schools, while allowing rising eighth-grade students and their siblings currently enrolled in middle school to apply to be “grandfathered” at their existing school.

This article was updated 3/28/17.

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