School drinking water safety and access during COVID-19

By Christina Hecht

School drinking water access

Why is access to drinking water in schools important? Sugary drinks such as juice and soda are a top source of added sugars and of empty calories in children’s diets. The school day is an important time to help children and youth develop the habit of drinking water to quench thirst.

In recognition of this, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 requires schools to make potable water available at no charge to students, wherever lunch is served, and when breakfast is served in the cafeteria. During COVID-19, most schools are providing meals in locations other than the cafeteria. USDA provides guidance for meeting HHFKA water requirements in the Q&A for the Child Nutrition Programs during School Year 2020-21, questions 13-16. The guidance notes that schools are not required to provide potable water to children learning at home but still picking up school meals.

Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the National Drinking Water Alliance have released a new infographic on options for providing water in schools during COVID-19. Increasing Drinking Water Availability in Schools provides strategies and tips for success for making drinking water available throughout school campuses during COVID-19 and beyond.

Drinking water safety

Why is this important? Any building that has been shut for some time should be concerned about recommissioning plumbing pipes upon reopening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation on Sept. 22. The update added guidance on lead and copper in buidling water systems experiencing low or no use, along with information regarding legionella exposure via plumbing systems. Refer also to “Water Systems” section in Considerations for Schools, the CDC’s general recommendations for COVID-19 mitigation strategies when schools are open.

Additional information may be found in Environmental Protection Agency resources:

Factsheets from the National Drinking Water Alliance on school and child care tap water safety, with a focus on lead in tap water and links to additional resources, may be found at

Christina Hecht, PhD, is Senior Policy Advisor for the Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.