Today it was announced that YUC in partnership with other community and advocacy groups, won a commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains throughout all public schools. The announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s City Council Hearing on the State of Water in Philadelphia. YUC members were in attendance and provided testimony. Getting the district to agree to a full assessment of the water infrastructure in all SDP schools met one of YUC’s demands for water access. This is a big victory for the campaign, but there is still much work to be done. YUC will continue to press for the availability of clean and safe drinking water for all Philadelphia students; with $88 million dollars of unexpected local tax revenues, this windfall could be transformative in not only addressing issues of water access but also broader material conditions within schools. A big shout out to the Food Trust, Education Law Center-PA, CHOP PolicyLab, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the PFT, PennEnvironment and the Campaign for Lead Free Water for helping creating the conditions for greater oversight regarding Philadelphia’s water.
We also want to give a special shout out to one of our brave students, Tykirah Kelly, who shared rich testimony calling for more accountability and transparency concerning water in schools. Below you can read the testimony in full.
From what we all have seen from the incident in Flint, Michigan, it is clear to say that we all need to be aware of our water system. As this is true for the entire state and city, we especially need to take caution with our schools. It’s a terrifying feeling to suspect the water is dangerous in my city. As a student, I don’t know if the water at home or at school is safe. If I don’t have money to purchase water, do I just drink the water I am supplied with and take a chance of getting sick? This is not just to emphasize awareness of high levels of lead, but to any type of chemical contamination in our water.
It is very important to have a concrete knowledge as about what we put in our bodies because it is important to be conscious of your surroundings and environment. We as students have a right to go to school and not feel threatened. We also want to make sure no one in our city feels threatened, especially students who are left out of this conversation. What we saw in Flint was young people and their families drinking poisoned water, without society having concrete knowledge of their water system.
Asking other students from different schools of their water system gave me a range of how much the district actually cares for students in magnet schools vs. high poverty public schools. A current sophomore from Edison High School tells me, “When I first came to my school and tried to drink from the fountain, I was quickly advised that it wouldn’t be a good choice.” Whether the water is undrinkable or the fountain looks infested, these are not suitable conditions for any child/young adult to learn in. We need water to live, it’s the most important substance that humans need. Without it, we all would be dead. Without access to water in schools, students are forced to purchase water before school, or even from their school staff. This should not be the case considering water is a basic necessity schools should automatically supply students with.
What would be the steps to changing all school’s water systems for the better? According to Jerry Roseman, an independent environmental science consultant who has assessed conditions in almost all of Philadelphia public schools,”Shockingly poor conditions contribute to student and staff illness, absenteeism, damaged books, supplies, and materials and undercut academic achievement.” Access to clean water in our school’s is as fundamental or more than being able to sit in a classroom without tiles falling on our heads, However, District leaders have not made facility improvement a priority or engage the public in addressing the issue. This includes fixing entire school buildings along with their water system. If the school district is not seriously implementing this newly devised plan, then what will be the fate of our student body and a safe environment to learn in?
Youth Member, Youth United for Change
11th grade Student at Kensingtion Creative And Performing Arts High School