Nashville school facilities director suggests plan to "bypass" lead filter in secret recording

A school administrator is on leave after a secret recording revealed he suggested sabotaging plans to keep drinking water safe in Nashville area schools. CBS affiliate WTVF has reported on the dangerous levels of lead in some of the district's schools for nearly a year. In a new audio recording obtained by the station, the executive director of school facilities discusses not using water filters.

Metro Nashville public schools began voluntarily testing drinking water in 2016, after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. About 30 schools then installed hydration stations that filter out lead, but a secret recording has parents worried their children's water is still not safe, reports CBS News' Anna Werner. 

"It's just not acceptable," said Chelle Baldwin, whose two daughters attend Nashville's West End Middle School. She said after testing showed high levels of lead in their water, some parents bought water stations and filters.

"They're sitting in the school basement. And there was really no clear answer as to why they weren't being installed," Baldwin said.  

In a secret recording, Dennis Neal, the executive director of facilities for Metro Schools, can be heard resisting use of the filters.

"They are adamant about them being filtered. I'm saying we can't -- we cannot support it," Neal is heard saying.

In the recording, Neal also responds to a suggestion to break the lights that show when the filters need to be changed.

"We've got to figure out what we are going to do with these hundred, or 97, filtered ones that we have out there," Neal says. Then, a woman's voice suggests: "Bust the light out….Take the light bulb out."

Neal responds, "Well, that's one thing. But we need to also probably, if we can, bypass the filter."

Spokeswoman Michelle Michaud says the district is "deeply concerned" about the recording. While they don't condone what was said on it, the filling stations are expensive and she claims the filters are less effective in filtering out lower levels of lead.

"It's a huge cost in the district. Hundreds of thousands of dollars," Michaud said.

She says the 37 locations that had lead levels exceeding the EPA's recommended 15 parts per billion have been fixed. But she does admit some locations still show lead levels which exceed acceptable levels for kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents like Chelle Baldwin say more needs to be done.

"This is children's developing brains and we cannot put money above their health and wellness," she said. 

"CBS This Morning" reached out to Dennis Neal, but has not heard back. He is on administrative leave pending an investigation. Michaud told us the district is now embarking on random water quality testing, and if it says find anymore levels that exceed the EPA recommendation, they will remediate them.