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Update: Clean & Safe Water Project in Jersey City Schools

On June 1st at Jersey City’s Lincoln High School, parents, educators, clergy, students, and community leaders and allies from the Jersey City Together Education Team gathered to celebrate progress and advocate for completion of new water fountains in all Jersey City Public Schools (JCPS). JCMUA Executive Director Joe Cunha, Jersey City Director of Infrastructure Barkha Patel, and JCBOE Superintendent Norma Fernandez were commended for their collaboration and increased project momentum during the 2022–23 school year. JC Together also urged Dr. Fernandez to announce the next steps in authorizing water system improvements at the last group of public schools and Early Childhood Centers. The schools are PS11, PS20, PS23, PS24, PS26, PS30, A Harry Moore, Lincoln HS Grade 9 building, Liberty HS, Renaissance Institute, Cunningham Early Childhood Center, Danforth Early Childhood Center, Infante Early Childhood Center, and West Side Early Childhood Center. Infinity Institute is located in a building rented by the district that also needs water remediation; this work will require cooperation between the JCMUA and the building owner, the Catholic Archdiocese.

Since 2018, Jersey City Together has been advocating for safe, running drinking water fountains to be available in every Jersey City public school, as is laid out here. The mission has been a simple one: ensuring all students at ALL public schools have the dignity of safe drinking water fountains that they deserve. Between 2019 and July 2022, water restoration projects at 15 schools were completed. JC Together, JCPS, and the JCMUA have collaborated to update building pipes and install working water fountains that will give children immediate access to clean drinking water from working fountains. This year, the district and JCMUA will have remediated another 17 schools by summer 2023. Because of JC Together' advocacy work:

-18,500 students now have access to clean, safe drinking fountains,

- 1,500 more students will soon have access, at schools where work is being completed pending water test results, or where new fountains are being installed during the summer of 2023.

At the meeting, Dr. Fernandez announced that the JCBOE has reserved $250,000 in capital funds to “develop a scope of work” come this late summer/early fall for the remaining group of schools targeted for water restoration. She also laid out a rough timeline for the remaining work, expecting the JCBOE to sign a work contract for improvements by this November so that work could start by early 2024. Dr. Fernandez explained that the age of a school building and the condition of its water facilities, in addition to results of water sampling tests, will determine the order in which work will continue. After work is completed, it was also noted that school maintenance staff will be monitoring the new running water as part of a regular checklist to ensure they don’t fall into disrepair.

Water fountains at most Jersey City public schools had been turned off between 2006 and 2013 due to high levels of lead. As a result, JCPS implemented a system of water jugs and coolers to replace the un-drinkable running water at the affected schools. Jersey City Together has advocated for a permanent solution to this problem, installation of 21st century water fountains in all public school buildings. This solution respects the dignity of our children and of school staff, is sustainable, and is the right thing to do. Through JC Together’s advocacy, the JCMUA, the school district, and the city have come together to implement this solution.

The work is not yet complete; more than 4,500 students in a dozen schools and Early Childhood Center buildings lack access to working water fountains. On June 1, Dr. Fernandez committed to a plan to complete the remediation in these buildings, as described above. Jersey City Together will continue to advocate until the work is completed.

Want to know more? See this chart of which schools have working water fountains with clean, lead-free water and which still don’t. If you would like to get involved, email the education team at education@njtogether. org

See more press from our June 1, 2023 action:

Hudson County View:

Jersey City Times:

Jersey Journal:

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