San Francisco schools drowning in new water legislation 

Making tap water available to schoolchildren is now much harder since federal regulations will require districts to provide it by the start of this school year — no exceptions.

The San Francisco Unified School District is taking inventory of its 120 school sites to meet the requirements. According to federal regulations, National School Lunch Program participants, which account for more than 95 percent of schools nationwide, must “make potable water available to children at no charge in the place where lunch meals are served during the meal service.”

“Schools participating in the NSLP must comply with this requirement and, therefore, cannot opt out of providing free drinking water to students,” the regulations say.

The federal mandate differs from California Senate Bill 1413, which allowed districts to opt out of the mandate if they couldn’t afford it.

Being out of compliance, however, won’t affect school districts’ reimbursement for meals, but it could affect inspections. Currently, districts receive up to $2.94 per meal for students qualifying for the free or reduced-cost program, according to state officials. Proposed regulations are expected to be released in December.

Whether schools provide water immediately or not won’t affect their reimbursement because there is no funding source listed. However, state education officials said districts will need to comply in order to pass mandated inspections, according to Mike Danzik, a nutrition education specialist for the California Department of Education.

Heidi Anderson, a spokeswoman for the SFUSD, said even though most schools are not equipped to offer water in cafeterias, students are not deprived of liquid.

“These new requirements might mislead folks to think our kids don’t have access to water during meals, which ... they do,” she said.

The district, though, is developing a plan for all sites to ensure access is available. For now, five schools’ cafeterias are receiving water fountains that will fit reusable bottles.

As many as eight schools use bottled water because of issues with pipes. This infrastructure and water in school cafeterias are two issues school district officials hope will be addressed in the $531 million bond, if approved in November. The bond would allow the district to update roughly 52 schools seismically and to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act standards, and school officials said water can be addressed if work begins.

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