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Bellehaven’s dirty secret: My students drink bad water all day, every day

The morning routine at most schools is as follows: arrive at school, make a cup of coffee, proceed to your classroom to review plans and prepare for the day. At Bellehaven Elementary School, this picture looks slightly different. Yes, we arrive long before the bell to prepare our classrooms, make coffee and cue up at the copier. But we also spend time filling our Brita filters and running our faucets.

When I was hired at Bellehaven I was given a tour of our beautiful little school. I was told that it was once a church and that over the years APS changed the grounds into the school we see today. It is a community of hard-working teachers and amazing students. At the end of the tour the former principal of the school stopped at the sink and told me “Don’t drink the water here.” I laughed, believing her statement to be a joke. But the principal repeated herself in a more serious tone, and told me that the water really isn’t good at our school and that she would not drink it herself.

Sure enough the signs began showing themselves. I would enter my classroom after the weekend and turn on the tap to wash my hands only to be greeted with brown-orange water. The toilets would be ringed with the same color after only a day or so of not being flushed. The cup that I used to water classroom plants was coated in the same color of mineral brown-orange after only a few uses. Still, I drank the water frequently because if the district found the water to be acceptable for children to drink then it was acceptable for me.

I stopped drinking it in September of 2018 after weeks of stomach upset. The symptoms cleared up. There could be many causes for this issue. After all, correlation does not equal causation, but I still wonder if there was a relationship between the two.

It is common knowledge at Bellehaven that the water is not of a drinkable quality, and yet our children and teachers were told that the water was “fine” year after year. It wasn’t until May of 2019 that a “voluntary” test was finally performed at our school site. A random sampling of classroom sinks and water fountains were tested and found to have unacceptably high levels of lead, including mine.

The Department of Health representative, Heidi Krapfl, incorrectly stated in the Albuquerque Journal that students do not typically drink water from classroom sinks. Students drink the water from the water fountain attached to our classroom sink three to five times a day five days a week for the entire school year. They do not simply sip. They will drink as long as they can because they need to stay hydrated throughout the day. Those who attend the K-5+ summer program will drink the water even more frequently. Some students also drink from the faucet by refilling water bottles up to three times per day.

The article also noted that samples were taken at the beginning of the day but, at least in my classroom, the samples were taken late into the afternoon, an hour before school let out. The individual testing my room had even asked if school was still in session, thinking that the students in my room were part of an after-school program. The levels may be even higher had they been tested in the morning as they were supposed to have been.

As a teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools, I find this issue to be appalling. How long have APS students and employees been drinking contaminated water? The district needs to do more to ensure the health and safety of our children who spend the majority of their weekdays in our care.