CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County schools will remain closed through the end of the week -- meaning students will miss at least six days because of the chemical spill that fouled the area's water last week.
Schools in Putnam and Boone counties, as well as some in Lincoln County, also will remain closed Thursday.
Sanitarians continued to flush pipes at schools in the region Wednesday, but West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the company is not testing individual taps at schools for the coal-cleaning chemical -- " Crude MCHM" -- that leaked into the Elk River from the Freedom Industries plant last Thursday.
"We are testing samples primarily from outside fixtures," Jordan said. "Schools are working with the county health departments on their proper flushing techniques."
Schools cannot reopen until all their water sources are flushed, inspected and approved by health department officials. As of Wednesday afternoon, only 26 of the 69 schools in Kanawha County were approved to open.
State law gives West Virginia Schools Superintendent Jim Phares the option of decreasing students' required 180 days in class if those students are in a federal disaster area and "where the event causing the declaration is substantially related to a reduction in instructional days."
President Obama declared a federal disaster Friday morning, about 12 hours after WVAW issued a "do-not-use" water advisory.
Phares has not made any such decision, state Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said Wednesday.
"Dr. Phares continues to monitor the situation closely as it progresses but will reserve any judgment about a decrease in the instructional term until we know the amount of instructional time that is actually lost as a result of the contamination," Cordeiro said. "Student safety, the benefit of instructional time and county administrative needs will be balanced as is most appropriate."
School officials must wait on health departments to give them the green light to open schools, and health officials can't clear schools until the water company has lifted the do-not-use advisory. Many schools were still under that water ban as of Wednesday evening.
However, there's another holdup in the inspection process, said Matt Hayes, a sanitarian with the Tennessee National Guard: Schools can't be properly inspected until school plumbers flush hot-water tanks and replace filters for things such as ice machines.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Nitro High School was the first school Hayes' crew had been able to properly inspect, because plumbers already had visited the school.
"Filters are a big issue. They're on back order. Everyone needs them," Hayes said. "The plumbing staff is working as hard as they can."
Hayes carried a checklist issued by Kanawha County Schools Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth. That list is similar to the health department's protocol for homes and businesses: flush all faucets, run a few empty cycles for dishwashers, empty ice machines.
Schools require more attention, Hayes said, because of things like water fountains, science labs with water lines, outdoor athletic facilities and sprinkler systems. Desktops and cafeteria equipment have to be rewashed, in case they were cleaned with contaminated water last week.