Elementary schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District with higher black student populations are more likely to have a higher percentage of students with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL), a Scene analysis has found.
That this is true should come as no surprise, given the neighborhoods where the local lead crisis has been most pronounced. But in a report published Monday by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, that conclusion is only implied.
The report, lead by Associate Professor Rob Fischer, found that roughly 25 percent
of CMSD kindergartners have had at least one blood test which revealed EBLL. Per the Centers for Disease Control, the threshold has been set at five micrograms per decileter. Elevated lead levels, especially those above this threshold, have been associated with academic and behavioral problems as children grow older.
Researchers noted that the overall number of EBLL cases is declining statewide, but that children in Cuyahoga County now represent 41 percent of the state's total cases, with most of them concentrated in Cleveland, indeed in "specific [Cleveland] neighborhoods."
The findings demonstrated a "wide variation" in lead levels among CMSD schools, at which researchers tested more than 10,000 kindergartners from 2014 to 2017. This variation was not at all random. Children in neighborhoods with poor housing stock, overwhelmingly on the east side, were disproportionately affected.
This would seem, then, to support an obvious conclusion: that black children are disproportionately affected. Cleveland is of course intensely racially segregated, with African-Americans concentrated in the city's poor east side neighborhoods.
We're here to note the correlation between race and lead poisoning explicitly.
Scene cross-referenced the CWRU report's EBLL data with CMSD demographic data we'd obtained last year via public records request (for an unrelated story) to demonstrate the racial character of the lead crisis. Just as infant mortality continues to afflict black babies at dramatically higher rates
than white babies, the lead crisis is affecting black children in much higher numbers than white children.
Failure to act, then — or failure to "coalesce" around a remediation strategy, in the language of a Cleveland Foundation-funded report — is increasing racial inequity in a region dominated by it.
"I know people are impatient," Councilman Blaine Griffin told Scene Monday
. "And I know they might think there's not a sense of urgency. I won't duck that. But I will tell you that I do have a sense of urgency and [the Health and Human Services Committee] spent most of 2018 on this issue. We're working on it."
Returning to the data, the 10 K-8 CMSD schools with the highest percentage of kindergartners with a history EBLL had an average black student population of more than 90 percent.
It's actually probably much higher than that, but CMSD refers to schools with only one racial group as "95+" percent, and we tabulated those schools as "95," not "100." Glenville's Iowa-Maple elementary, for example, the school with the highest incidence of EBLL in the CWRU report (46.7 percent) is "95+" percent black. So, too, is Franklin D. Roosevelt, Patrick Henry, Mary Bethune, Michael White, and Daniel Morgan, all among the schools with the very highest EBLL percentages.
The 10 K-8 CMSD schools with the lowest percentage of EBLL, on the other hand, had an average black student population of only 39.7 percent. The three schools with the lowest lead levels were Campus International downtown, (55 percent black); Douglas MacArthur in Kamm's Corners, (37 percent black); and James Garfield in Jefferson, (30 percent black).
When we subjected the data to statistical analysis — with the guidance of a local data expert — we discovered a significant correlation between race and lead poisoning.
That is, if you increase the number of black students, without controlling for other variables, the percentage of students with a history of lead poisoning increases as well. The opposite is true for white students. If you increase the number of white students, the percentage of students with a history of lead poisoning decreases.
Here are scatterplots of the data, assembled by our analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous. The line is the result of an equation which shows the expected EBLL percentages based on changes in student racial makeup.
Again, these results should be obvious to anyone familiar with Cleveland's geography, but the CWRU report never mentions race. In fact, its ability to dance around the topic becomes almost comical. Take this finding:
"Child lead testing and elevated blood lead levels [EBLL] vary across Cleveland neighborhoods. The neighborhoods with the highest proportions of resident kindergartners who have a history of EBLL are Glenville (40.4%), St. Clair-Superior (36.2%), Buckeye-Woodhill (34.7%), Broadway-Slavic Village (34.6%) on the city's east side and Stockyards on the west side."
Or this one:
"The schools with the highest proportions of kindergartners who start school with an EBLL history are geographically concentrated in specific neighborhoods. Of the 10 schools with the highest EBLL rates, five are in Glenville, two are in Broadway-Slavic Village, and one each in Goodrich-Kirtland Park, Hough and St. Clair-Superior. Among the 10 schools with the lowest EBLL rates, four are in Kamm's Corners, and one each in Old Brooklyn, Downtown, Jefferson, Tremont, Bellaire-Puritas and North Shore Collinwood."
Just come out and say it!
"Higher EBLL proportions are observable among children on the eastern side of the city and lower rates are seen among children on the western side."
We know what this means, of course. It's prudent to remember that in October, 1968, less than a year after Carl Stokes was elected mayor, becoming the first black mayor of a major city in the United States, his community relations board held a mass media and race relations conference with the goal of helping predominantly white newsrooms cover the changing city.
“It is within the power of the press to make negroes feel less like voices crying in the wilderness and more like people who are being listened to,” wrote Margaret Halsey in The New Republic
, in 1965, a quote referenced in the lately digitized
conference summary. “It is within the power of the press to open the eyes of white people to their own insularity.”
At the daylong event, representatives from the black community voiced their frank objections to what they perceived as major institutional flaws in the press – the mass media was the white media
, in their view. But one of their specific objections was the use of “code words such as ‘east sider’ that the community has been conditioned to know means ‘Negro.’”
The code words are still in use today. And the overwhelming whiteness of the region’s news media abides.
We see the same coded language in the CWRU report. And while the researchers were not examining demographic data, the racial conclusion must be noted. It is significant, based on their own findings.
"This brief highlights the disparity in lead exposure by Cleveland neighborhood and school," the researchers conclude. Our analysis confirms the clear, though unspoken, conclusion. This disparity is also explicitly racial.
This unspoken conclusion should give us a clue about why the lead issue has "failed to garner widespread support" among institutional stakeholders, why funding has failed to materialize from traditional philanthropic sources and
why political action has consisted chiefly of "engagement" and "research" with no strategy or timetable for implementation, all in spite of ongoing reporting from Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner at the Plain Dealer.