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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – A new study published online Aug. 21 in the journal Environmental Research has found that children in the Milwaukee public schools with moderate levels of lead in their blood during the first three years of live were nearly three times as likely to be suspended from school by the time they reach fourth grade.
The study, which analyzed medical and school discipline records of 3,763 school children, also found that “African American children were more likely to be suspended than white children, but lead exposure explained 23 percent of the racial discipline gap.”
Two studies released earlier this year found that Providence schoolchildren had diminished educational performance as a result of lead in the blood stream.
One study, by the Providence Plan, found that about 20 percent of children who will enter kindergarten in 2014 in Providence had elevated levels of lead in their blood. A second study, published in the journal Pediatrics in May, linked cognitive problems and lower reading readiness in Providence schoolchildren to lead exposure.
Together, with the Milwaukee study, the findings indicate that lead levels in the blood of school children may be as much an educational performance issue as they are a health issue.
When asked whether the R.I. Department of Education had conducted any review or study of suspensions and correlated them with lead exposure, whether any follow-up was planned to the studies found learning difficulties in Providence schoolchildren as a result of lead, or whether the agency had conducted any outreach programs related to preventing lead exposure and educating parents about the dangers, spokesman Elliot Krieger replied: “Prevention of exposure to lead is a very important health issue, but research and outreach on this issue is a little beyond our scope or expertise.”
Krieger added that his agency would be glad to partner with the R.I. Department of Health regarding this or any other public-health issue.
Krieger’s comments came the day after the R.I. Department of Education released its three-year report, “Stepping up for Success,” detailing the way it had spent the first $44.4 million of its $75 million Race to the Top federal grant to “improve teaching and learning in the state,” according to Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee.