In response to concerns from parents over students drinking water in Toms River Regional district schools following the detection of lead in some fixtures last week, officials debated at a school board meeting Wednesday night whether to temporarily relax a policy that prohibits students from carrying bottled water in schools buildings.
The prohibition of water bottles is in place because of fears that students could fill them with alcohol or other substances, however one Board of Education member said the policy should be suspended until all the fixtures containing lead in every school building are replaced. Elevated lead levels were found in the water at five elementary schools – North Dover, South Toms River, Pine Beach, West Dover and Washington.
“I don’t think we should disallow students to bring in water bottles during this time just because someone could sneak in alcohol,” said board member Daniel Leonard.
Lead was detected in some water sources within the district during a statewide study of school water safety following the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Some of the sources where lead apparently leached from old soldered fixtures into the water were drinking fountains. All have since been turned off. Sinks where lead was found in the water have either been turned off or have had signs posted informing students and staff that drinking is not allowed. The district is currently in the process of replacing all of the fixtures.
Ultimately, the board did not suspend the policy, at the suggestion of Superintendent David M. Healy.
“Before we lift the restriction here and now, I need to know what the principals would like to do in their buildings,” said Healy. “It will be a collaborative conversation, and the decision will be the best thing for the children. It’s not going to be me, sitting here, imposing my will.”
Board President Ben Giovine also came out against changing the policy on the spot, saying it could cause confusion in the classroom.
“The board really shouldn’t be dictating to [Healy] how that happens,” said Giovine. “I don’t want one child getting in trouble from one teacher who didn’t get the memo about being able to have a water bottle.”