Opinion: Water fountains should be turned back on

Jeremy Zhao, Community Editor & Copy Editor

The other day, I was thirsty. Asking my teacher for a pass out of class, I strutted over to the nearest water fountain in front of the bathrooms and pressed the bar. Hello? No water.

I came to my senses and realized that this water fountain was probably broken. Weighing my options of going back to class mad thirsty and spending a few more ATPs to get H2O, I wrapped around the entire second floor to the other bathroom. But this water fountain was also broken.

In reality, the Naperville Central’s drinking fountains were shut down at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. 

“We had direction from the ISBE to shut the water off to all drinking fountains that have the actual spout,” said Cuauhtémoc Zarate, Facilities Director at Naperville Central. 

The Illinois State Board of Education, or the ISBE, sends directives to Illinois public schools. To be clear, I do not take issue with Naperville Central, but this ISBE order. The ISBE would be wise to open up water fountains expeditiously. 

First, the COVID-19 situation is much less severe now than the circumstances that justified implementing this change in the first place. I understand the need to lessen the crowding and chance of transmission in March, but keeping the water fountains closed for over a year when nobody touches the spout? Apart from myself, I’ve had several friends complain about the drinking fountains. 

Especially considering the maskless lunch periods and notoriously lax enforcement of mask rules in classrooms, shutting down the water fountains seems not only excessive, but hypocritical. Instead of continuing a measure that hurts the student body, let’s first put masks over noses. 

Second, Naperville Central offers countless clubs, activities, and sports that are both grounded in the building and require heavy physical exertion. To remove a vital fuel for these active participants in the school would take a toll on their performance. As a member of the speech team myself, having an easily accessible water source after forgetting a water bottle is everything. 

During parent-teacher conferences, I drove to school for a speech event. As I arrived at the school, I realized that I forgot to pack a water bottle and remembered the water fountain crisis. Anticipating the immense amount of speaking ahead, I felt the need to drive all the way back to the gas station on Washington Street to buy a water bottle. 

This is crazy. Although the school does have several functional water bottle fillers located right next to drinking fountains, I find these rather unforgiving for students, like me, who simply forgot to pack a water bottle. Craning my neck and hitting my head on the back of the panel to drink water is just a little undignified. 

As if it wasn’t bad enough, school vending machines charge $1.25 for water! I’m seriously considering buying a milk carton from the cafeteria just to use it as a water bottle. 

I understand that requesting something like this to be changed can seem naive to the realities of the chain of command; after all, a change at Central would mean a change in every single public school in the entire state. However, these student grievances need to be seriously considered by those in control. 

While initially implemented in good faith, the closure of drinking fountains at Naperville Central cannot stay. Students who forgot a water bottle in the morning should not feel unnecessary anxiety throughout the school day because they can’t access water.