Schools scramble to find water solutions

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As schools prepare to return to in-person instruction in the fall, the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is creating concerns in unexpected ways.

One such concern surrounds the use of water fountains in school buildings. Administrators are required to make water available to all students and employees, but fountains will be off limits this fall, according to guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana Department of Education.

“We’re not supposed to let students use the water fountains, so how are we going to have water,” Crawfordsville Schools Assistant Superintendent Rex Ryker asked.

Indiana Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick said June 5 that plans are currently in development to meet the issue “head on.”

“Water is an area we have been contacted about quite a bit,” McCormick said. “During the school day it can be quite difficult if there’s no access to water fountains.”

Refillable water bottles, whether brought from home by students or provided at school by administrators, are one potential solution.

However, each school and their surrounding communities have varying needs.

“Going in and putting in refilling stations is financially, probably, not feasible,” Ryker said. “They are a (planned) part of the high school construction project, but only one will be in by the start of school. That’s something we’re trying to work on with the Montgomery County Health Department, and Chartwells K-12 (food service).”

With this in mind, McCormick and her team at the IDOE have turned to other methods to provide water to students throughout the school day.

“We’ve reached out to the (United State Department of Agriculture); commercially bottled water of no size specification is allowable with meals for breakfast, lunch and snack,” McCormick said. “For some of you that is super helpful. It can’t be a substitution for milk, but it’s allowable with reimbursable meals. The USDA said it is acceptable as a cost.”

Though administrative teams have until August to come up with solutions, athletics are set to return July 1.

Students will not be allowed on campus more than 15 hours each week during the summer, and they must employ social distancing efforts at all times.

But the school will still be required to provide water during the summer, putting a time crunch on administrators and the IDOE.

For now, McCormick has referred athletic directors and coaches to the IN-CLASS packet of guidelines, which was released June 5.

“The athletic piece in Appendix C made it pretty clear and I think most athletic directors and coaches have figured out how to utilize the refilling of individual water bottles,” she said.

However, athletic directors and coaches are left to fill in the gaps as Appendix C simply states: Shared hydration stations (water trough, water fountains, water hose, etc.) should not be utilized except for filling individual, labeled water bottles.

The guidance offered in the IN-CLASS packet is the same for Phase I (July 6-19), Phase II (July 20 to Aug. 15) and Phase III (Aug. 15 and beyond), leaving administrators to come up with their own solutions for the foreseeable future, or use the “water trough, water fountains, water hose, etc.” for all students throughout the 2020-21 year.

McCormick said further information will be released concerning commercially bottled water.

The full informational packet from the IDOE can be found at www.doe.in.gov.

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