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Newark school officials say the water fountains are on. Tell us, do you have access to water?

Newark Public Schools closed all water fountains last year to help curb the spread of the coronavirus when students resumed in-person learning.

Teachers, staff, and sometimes the district bought cases of water for classrooms, and students brought bottles of water from home or purchased from vending machines. Sometimes teachers and students said they filled bottles at bathroom sinks, the only source of water they could find in their school buildings.

Newark: Do water fountains work in your school?

Help Chalkbeat examine access to water in schools.

District officials promised that this school year would be different.

But a month later, some students say they still don’t have access to working water fountains. Parents say they send their children to school with bottled water for the day.

“I’m sending my kid with a big gallon to lug around with her so she can get water,” said Nadirah Brown, mother of Harriet Tubman Elementary School student. “There is no bottled water or water fountains for our children.”

At a school board meeting in March, Superintendent Roger León’s presentation included a slide stating that the district would “pursue the installation of touchless water fountains with a completion date early next school year.” .

Five months later, at a meeting in August, board member Josephine Garcia said the district had yet to begin installing the touchless water fountains.

“The district will begin installing touchless drinking fountains soon,” Garcia said, reading the minutes of an Aug. 17 operations committee meeting.

These minutes also stated that “all drinking water sources at the school will be opened in time for the opening of the school”.

State rules require school districts to ensure students have access to safe drinking water.

León said last year the district shut down water fountains as a COVID-19 precaution to prevent the virus from spreading. However, state and federal guidelines did not mention closing water fountains when schools resumed in-person learning.

It turns out that part of the reason water fountains remained closed was a delay in testing water sources for lead and replacing water filters, Chalkbeat Newark reported the year last.

As of mid-August, the district had completed lead testing at 57 schools and planned to test 12 remaining schools before the start of the school year, according to meeting minutes.

School affairs administrator Valerie Wilson said Sept. 27 that more than 3,000 drinking water outlets had been tested for lead and turned back on.

But, she added, “When we turned them on, we discovered that certain components of our plumbing system were causing the fountains to fail or not be used,” she told the school board.

The district resolved those issues, retested the fountains and returned them to service, she said.

“There aren’t any schools with unusable fountains at this point,” she said. “All schools have fountains.”

However, that’s not what students, parents and staff told Chalkbeat.

As the school year begins, help us tell this story with precision and depth by sharing what you experience in your schools regarding access to water by completing the form below.

If you are having difficulty viewing this form, please go here.

Catherine Carrera is Chalkbeat Newark’s office manager, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English language learners. Contact Katherine at [email protected].

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