With so many voices and so much energy being pushed forth to reopen the schools and get the kids back into the classroom, we have to begin to ask several fundamental questions. And these do not concern the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
Question one, which would never have occurred to us in the past, is whether there is clean, lead-free, bacteria-free water in the fountains, the sinks, the toilets, and the showers in the schools.
We take it for granted that schools are safe places for our children and we assume that any water they will be drinking will be good for them. But that’s not necessarily the case.
In a low-income area on the West Coast of the United States, one of the teachers who has the youngest children in her classes was shocked to discover the water was not safe to drink. What could she do?
She did the only thing that teachers in low-income area schools have done and continued to do; she reached out for help. The help she sought was at a charity that provides materials, supplies, special seating, computers, and many other things to teachers in need. The teachers send in their requests, explaining why they need these things, and people worldwide contribute.
Before this charity came to being, the usual course was that teachers reached (and still do) into their own pockets to provide the supplies that our children need and which should have been supplied by their school systems. What are some of the supplies the teachers buy? How about chalk, pencils, and paper?
Why are teachers expected to pay for needed educational materials? They do not make sufficient salaries to meet their needs on anything but a marginal basis. It is discrimination without question. These are public schools, not private ones where everything is there for students, and teachers cannot carry the load for supplies.
The second question parents need to ask is about the safety of the water supplied to the students in the schools. It is assumed it’s healthy, but that is questionable.
Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.
An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states — in small towns and inner cities alike.
But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied.
Water in schools isn’t safe in only small towns across the United States but in places like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Los Angeles, where dangerous lead levels were discovered. The major culprit? The plumbing system in the schools may be old and contaminated. Now it stands unused for months, without periodic flushing, and the dangers increase.
Empty Schools Increase the Health Problems
What plans have local schools devised to handle the potential threats present in the water of isolated schools? One hotel in Spain had a solution to their 27-stories hotel’s 1,400 pipe taps; flush every five days. How many schools have done anything near that type of protection during times when schools are closed?
The CDC emphasizes how to minimize the risk of Covid-19 infections, but what about the water systems? The lack of care in maintaining school facilities in lower-income neighborhoods is well-known, but this virus places an additional layer of danger on top of the existing ones.
In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 46% of public schools had conditions that contribute to poor indoor environmental quality, according to a Harvard University study. Asbestos, lead paint, unsafe drinking water, and insufficient heating and cooling are fixtures of public school districts nationwide.
But we needn’t go back eleven years to see that our schools are in dire need of changes, both in architecture and educational planning. There have been efforts to monitor water quality in schools, but when did you last hear of one?
Of course, the situation in Flint, Michigan, comes to mind, but that’s an entire town and the egregious actions of local politicians. But we’re talking about the entire United States and school water systems. Water pipes are the breeding grounds for more than Legionnaire’s Disease.
Who’s taking steps in your area to ensure the safe return of students to classes? What are they doing about the water well before the students return, and what are their plans for the future?
There are no Federal regulations related to adequate testing and maintenance of school water systems. School systems may decide to conduct water testing or not.