Montessori water investigation continues

School presses Tisbury Water Department to work at a quicker pace. 


Vineyard Montessori School’s Head of School Debbie Jernigan came before Tisbury’s water superintendent, Chris Cassidy, and Tisbury’s water commissioners in an effort to advance an investigation into waterborne lead that’s been detected at the Vineyard Haven school. 

In discussion over the scheduling of exploratory excavation, the threat pipe solder might pose, and a missing test sample, among other subjects, Cassidy both agreed and disagreed with Jernigan’s positions, and talked over her more than once to make his points. Jernigan at one point said, “I’m just going to ask if the commission doesn’t mind if I finish what I’m saying, that’s all. I just want to finish talking.”

Vineyard Montessori School has been using bottled water for months after state water testing revealed above-limit lead in the school’s water. The results appear to have been triggered after the state set a more stringent threshold for lead in school drinking water. Lead was similarly found in some Tisbury School water. The Tisbury School has resorted to bottled water too. 

Cassidy reiterated an opinion he had expressed in March, that he suspected lead readings in the school’s water stemmed from interior pipes in a school building, as opposed to underground municipal pipes. He said specifically that he thought lead solder on the pipes in the school was the likely culprit. With that in mind, Jernigan said, she hired plumbers to inspect the school’s interior pipes, and it was the plumbers’ opinion that the solder wasn’t what was causing the waterborne lead issue. 

After getting past what seemed to be miscommunications and other delays, Cassidy resolved to work with the school’s excavation contractor to dig up a section of the pipe that connects to the school building in question to determine if lead is present in incoming water. 

“I’d really like to move forward in getting that test done at that spot,” Jernigan said. “We ordered the materials. They’ve been sitting here for three weeks waiting for that test to happen.”

Cassidy said the sole requirement he had to properly test the water is that there be no water use for six hours prior to the test. Jernigan didn’t see that as a problem.

Jernigan told Cassidy the school hadn’t received a particular test result handed off to the town in January. 

“Something might have gotten lost,” Cassidy said, as the water department was in the process of switching the laboratory it uses.

“If it’s the sample from the sink I’ve been waiting for, we can take another sample because we have the samples from the lab to do it with,” Jernigan said. “If that sample got lost.”

Jernigan stressed the school is stuck using bottled water, and she hopes the test taken from the connector pipe comes quicker than the sink test, so the investigation can move forward.

Noting that she believed she had talked with him before on the subject, Jernigan asked if Cassidy could provide more information about grant money that may help alleviate the water burden the school is under. However, Cassidy said he never suggested grant money was available. 

“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.

Jernigan noted one waterborne lead reading taken at the school matched exactly a reading taken at a nearby house.

Cassidy noted the residential standard for lead in water is not as strict as the school standard, so the residence Jernigan mentioned wasn’t over the limit.

Jernigan later told The Times she and Cassidy have arranged for an excavation and test to take place next week.