Water access advocates are pushing the Madison Metropolitan School District to include more specific water measures in its wellness policy.
The Madison School Board is considering an update to the policy, with a vote expected later this month or next. On Monday, the council discussed the management proposalwhich offers updates to a multitude of elements of the policy, including some, but not all, of the requested language advocates.
“I said when I signed up that I was opposed to welfare politics, which felt weird to me because I’m a big supporter of welfare politics and that’s been a big part of my work over the past year,” Shawn Koval, the Healthy Schools Coordinator for the Healthy Kids Collaborative, told the school board Monday. “I really think there is a lack of specificity in the policy section in key areas, and access to water is just one of them.”
Koval was one of 11 people who signed up to speak about the welfare policy during Monday’s public comments.
The Healthy Kids Collaborative (HKC), which includes representatives from various Madison-area groups, collected student feedback on water access and pressed the district and school board to be explicit about the access to water in politics. Although the draft policy presented on Monday includes elements of the language suggested by the HKC and is more detailed than the existing welfare policy, it does not include some of the specific measures requested by the HKC.
This includes a statement that students and staff will be allowed to carry refillable water bottles, as well as minimum standards for water bottle filling stations in buildings for new construction or renovation:
• A minimum of one (1) water bottle filling station per 200 building occupants.
• A minimum of one (1) water bottle filling station on each floor and wing of each school building.
• A minimum of one (1) water bottle filling station in all school lunch areas.
• At least one (1) water bottle filling station located in or near gymnasiums, outdoor recreation areas and other high traffic areas
The current draft policy guarantees “access to free, safe and flavorless drinking water during meals” and throughout the school day, but does not set minimums like those above.
School board members asked administrative staff about the possibility of delaying a vote from the end of this month to next to allow more time to consider public comments. District General Counsel Sherry Terrell-Webb said she could likely defer it to September.
Board member Nichelle Nichols noted the contrast between the water language included in the draft policy and the public comments asking for more, asking staff to explain why certain elements were included and others were not. . MMSD Physical Education, Health and Wellness Coordinator Ashley Riley said comments from the most recent District Wellness Advisory Council had not yet been included, but acknowledged that access to bottled water, in particular, had been discussed, including that it was allowed in some schools and not others.
Terrell-Webb said she asked the district associate superintendents to review the proposal and “indicate where there might be a conflict” between the policy and what is practiced in the buildings.
“We’ll go back and look at it again,” she said, suggesting they need to find a language “that works for everyone.” “I don’t want to be in a position where we say, ‘Everyone will get a bottle of water’, that was a suggestion, because then it assumes that students will actually wear them or that parents will try to force them to carry water bottles or that we will provide water bottles.
School board member Christina Gomez Schmidt pointed to a policy in another school district that schools would “allow” students and staff to carry a refillable water bottle without implying that the district would provide the water bottle, suggesting that might be a good language to consider.
Sophia Jiang, a rising junior at Memorial High School, also spoke to the board on Monday about the importance of access to water. In June, she told the Cape Times that it had become a “big deal” for her classmates with closed water fountains, and her newly formed student group Children For Future took it on as an element. advocacy.
“A lot of my friends complained about it often, and if they forgot their water bottle, they went all day without drinking water,” she said. “It was a really big problem because then they started to feel tired and their grades in school went down.”
Jiang and others have found the welfare policy a good entry point for advocacy.
She contacted Koval and the Healthy Kids Collaborative to send out a survey to Memorial students about access to water. A majority of respondents supported improving access to water in the welfare policy, Jiang said, so the club reached out to school board members and advocated on social media.
“I learned that you really have to have a passion for (what you stand for),” she said. “You really have to convince people that this is something that’s really important to you.”
Baltazar De Anda Santana, the executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, has also worked on advocacy for access to water within the framework of the HKC. He said in a May interview that the topic offered an easy path to advocacy for his constituents, given that everyone drinks water.
“When I talk to students about the importance of water, I don’t have to say too much, they know it,” he says. “It takes it to a level where people can learn to plead based on something very common.”
On Monday, three speakers offered their thoughts in Spanish through an interpreter to the school board.
Similarly, Ben Van Pelt, director of government affairs for SSM Health, said in May that the local nature of school politics is a great entry point for new policy advocates.
“The school board is really a great place for advocates to bring an idea and change a policy intervention or a policy solution because they’re affected in their own backyard,” Van Pelt said. “They are affected in their own neighborhood by the policies adopted by the school board. »
Koval said he found it “fun” and “exciting” to work with a group including students, parents and community members to advocate for access to water, and Jiang was happy to work. with HKC.
“I’m really grateful that there are outside organizations that are willing to partner with young people to advocate for solutions,” she said. “We need the whole community to come together to help support students (and) teachers.
“It’s a community-wide effort.”