PAYETTE — In many places today, you’ll see water fountains covered up, with signs taped to them or simply turned off. Such has become a common sight as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but has become a problem for teachers and students in Payette.
Shauna Bain, a teacher at Westside Elementary, brought a complaint about student access to water fountains during a citizen comment session at the Payette School District Board of Trustees’ regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 11.
“I’ve been working in this district for many, many, many years … This is the first time I’ve ever brought a concern to the board, ever,” said Bain. “This may seem really small and petty, but in the classroom setting it becomes quite a large issue.”
Bain noted that during the first six weeks of the 2020-21 school year, the fountains were open at Westside. But that changed, she said, on Sept. 30.
“Suddenly, halfway through the day, our maintenance people came and covered up our fountains. No advanced warning, kids come in from P.E. with red faces and wanting to drink water and there’s no water.”
Bain relayed to the board that many students don’t have water bottles of their own, and have found themselves cupping their hands or sticking their mouths under faucets elsewhere in the school just to get water. After allowing her students to get a drink from a covered fountain, even access to her classroom faucet was cut off.
“My faucet was duct-taped,” said Bain. “I had three-quarters of my kids that don’t have water bottles and no one to provide them.”
Bain told the board that the added cost of trying to supply water to students is something teachers would like them to bear with them, so they don’t have to pull the covers off of water fountains to sneak water to students.
“As my husband can attest to, at tax time his eyes get [very] big when he sees how much money I spend on the classroom,” noted Bain. “My thought is in this world of COVID, I would like some water bottles provided for my children … I would like some cups, please, and I don’t want it to come out of my pocket.”
While Bain said she brought this issue to principal MaryBeth Bennett, she adds that this is a district issue rather than a site-level one.
“She [Bennett] was very accommodating, and took the money out of her own pocket and went and bought water bottles for my classroom. She did not know that this was taking place, none of us knew this was taking place. What I was concerned with is that there is no standard set for what is happening in any of the writings I could find. I’ve looked through our plan, I don’t see it. The other thing is it’s very inconsistent.”
Despite being told by a representative of the Payette Education Association that they believed this was only happening at Westside, Bain said she observed this happening at another campus which she did not specify.
“I can’t deny my kids water,” said Bain. “I don’t have time for them to cut water when [my students] come in from recess or P.E. I need to be teaching, not figuring out how to get my kids a drink of water.”
In an Oct. 14 email, Superintendent Robin Gilbert said the water fountain issue boils down to the differing ages of each campus but that her staff was already taking action on the issue even before Bain made her statement.
“It is the district stance that water and hydration are critical components of learning based on brain research,” wrote Gilbert. “We are prepared to supply water, water bottles, cups etc. based on needs communicated by building administrators. No one expects teachers to purchase these out of their own funds. Most schools have communicated that students can bring water bottles from home.
Gilbert added that Jacksons Food Stores stepped up to the challenge on Monday afternoon, offering a supply of stainless steel water bottles to Payette schools.
“We accepted this gift on behalf of all Payette students and anxiously await their delivery,” Gilbert added. “With the Federal COVID funds from the state, Payette has ordered 30 additional touchless water bottle filling stations to replace outdated fountains in all of our facilities. This will assist in healthy measures beyond COVID as well.”
Gilbert noted how other campuses are responding to water access needs:
At Payette High, students bring water bottles or take advantage of open campus to purchase such during lunch breaks. Athletics coaches have modified how water is distributed during practice and games. There are two water filling stations on campus, although they need repairs at this time according to Gilbert.
At McCain Middle, students are allowed to bring water bottles and have them during class, and there is one touchless water filling station. Students who forget or are unable to bring water bottles may request one at school.
Students of Payette Primary are asked to bring water to have in class, and are given bottles of water when needed.
It was not known when the district is to receive the water bottle stations ordered as of press time.
“We hope we are simply weeks out,” wrote Gilbert. “But as with every item COVID-related, vendors are backlogged as well.”