Several recent state and federal laws now require schools to provide free, fresh drinking water wherever meals are served or eaten. Free water in meal areas not only benefits students who cannot afford flavored beverages or who do not like milk, it encourages all students to drink water, which is a healthier choice than juice or soda.
While providing free, fresh water in meal areas seems like a no-brainer, 25% of California schools are out of compliance, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
A study of 240 randomly selected public schools was conducted in 2011 by researchers at UCSF, together with nutrition and health advocacy organizations California Food Policy Advocates and Change Lab Solutions. According to the study, the primary reasons schools did not provide the water was cost or ignorance of the law.
The good news is that the number of schools providing free drinking water in meal areas increased after passage of a recent California drinking water law. The bad news is that the law has no teeth: there are no consequences if a school fails to comply. Furthermore, schools can opt out if it would be too burdensome to retrofit cafeterias and lunch areas.
The problem is not just one of providing water. Some school districts are doing this, but the water they are providing is unfit for human consumption. According to the Chronicle article, the advocacy group Community Water Center found a total of 119 violations from 2005 through 2007 at 47 of the 146 schools it examined in the San Joaquin Valley, mostly for contaminants like bacteria, arsenic and nitrates.
The article did not discuss what percentage of schools provide bottled water for students to purchase.