In Partnership with The 74

LAUSD board allocates $20 million to get the lead out of water

Mike Szymanski | September 4, 2015



african-american-boy-take-a-drink-of-cool-water-from-one-of-the-schools-water-fountains-725x482Allocating nearly $20 million to eliminate lead from drinking water at LA Unified schools seemed like a slam-dunk for the school board, but the discussion on Sept. 1 opened floodgates of concern over how to do it.

As the district tries to eliminate any trace of lead, plans are underway to remove school fountains that aren’t being used regularly. LA Unified exceeds the one-fountain-per-150 students by nearly 10 times, so schools are inundated with fountains. But, some are redundant and need to be taken out or replaced, board members were told.

The $19,831,708 approved to eliminate lead is setting a “serious standard for school districts across the nation,” said Evelyn Wendel, of the nonprofit We Tap, which she founded to save public drinking fountains.

“Most of our drinking water is the best in the world,” she told the board. A former movie producer and mother of two, she added, “The seriousness that this school board has in improving the water equals some of what is being done with academics.”

But caveats arose. Board member and former teacher Mónica Ratliff said she worries about taking fountains away even though some may be unused. “As a teacher I want it in my classroom,” she said. “If there was one in the classroom and now we have to go elsewhere that will be a problem in terms of classroom management.”

Board member and former principal Scott Schmerelson pointed out that he has seen the need for more fountains where physical education activities take place. “You don’t want to have to wait in a long line after P.E., you need more fountains,” he said.

And dipping his toe into the issue, school board member Ref Rodriguez suggested, “We need to organize and create a campaign to communicate something specific to drinking water for the students.”

Deborah Ebrahemi,  Healthy Eating, Active Living Program Manager at The L.A. Trust for Children’s Health, a non-profit working to improve the health of the children of LAUSD, said that their Youth Advisory Board’s reoccurring health concern on their campuses is the availability of water and negative perceptions of their  school’s drinking fountains. She said, “Having to purchase bottled water and having fewer clean water fountains results in decreased health and functioning of students which of course correlates with lowered academic achievement levels.”
Adriana Hernandez, The L.A. Trust’s Youth Advisory Board Member and President of Fit, Active, Motivated and Empowered (F.A.M.E.) Health Club at Hollywood High School who is encouraging a reeducation of the city’s drinking water said, “Water is necessary for us to be able to study better and perform better in sports, some of the water in the fountains tastes like metal, it needs to be fixed, it’s crucial for us humans.”
Sara Garcia, another Youth Advisory Board Member and F.A.M.E. Healthy Club member insists that the use of plastic bottles is harming the environment. “It is hurting the turtles,” she said.

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