By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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As students and parents prepare for a new school year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a memorandum reminding school districts and child care centers to provide safe drinking water to children.

Recent events in Flint, Michigan, and other communities nationwide have made safe water much more of a question than formerly thought.

The reminder came last month from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service that oversees two federally funded meal programs. Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must provide safe drinking water where children eat their meals. Child care centers taking part in the Child and Adult Care Food Program must provide all-day access to safe drinking water.

State agencies are in charge of administering the meal programs. The monies schools and child care facilities receive through the federal meal programs cannot be used to upgrade plumbing in buildings. But under certain circumstances, funds may be used for filtration equipment.

California and Philadelphia are among those taking steps to ensure students have access to safe drinking water.

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently allocated $9.5 million from the state’s 2016-2017 budget to help schools in isolated and low-income areas provide students with safe drinking water.

In Philadelphia, the city council passed an ordinance in June requiring the school district to have one water fountain for every 100 students and at least one water fountain on every floor.

Rapheal Randall, executive director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Youth United for Change, said his group started advocating for drinking water access in schools after high school students complained last year that they had to buy water bottles after gym class because the building did not have safe drinking water.

Some students also reported water fountains didn’t work or “the water smelled bad or the water pressure was so low that the students would have to place their mouths on the spigot of the water fountain,” Randall said.

Randall said his group and other safe drinking water advocates worked with city officials to get the ordinance passed.

The new law ensures the Philadelphia school district guarantees students the “basic right” of safe drinking water, according to the office of Councilwoman Helen Gym, who sponsored the measure.

The effort in Philadelphia began before the lead contamination crisis in Flint, said Randall. But as the news surfaced, potable water advocates asked school district officials to test the water in its buildings, a task the district announced in early August it would undertake.

The district is now retesting drinking water for lead at 40 schools. The school district has also installed high-tech water fountains with powerful filtration systems in several schools.