Schools must offer water with lunch

Beginning in January, all schools in California must provide free, fresh water where students eat lunch.

What, you mean they don't already? No, says Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the bill that will go into law Jan. 1.

"People are just stunned to realize that kids can't drink free, fresh water when they are eating their meals," Leno said.

Compliance requires "minimal additional expense," he said. "What we are really talking about is putting some pitchers of water on their tables with cups."

The bill, SB 1413, imposes no penalty for noncompliance by the July 2011 deadline and offers no state funding for schools to install modern "hydration stations." Districts can opt out of the new regulations if they can prove it's a financial hardship.

Hydration stations can range from $2,500 dispensers with internal coolers akin to what is found in fast food restaurants, to plastic pitchers and paper cups.

Backers say promoting water as a healthy alternative to sodas and sugar-laden energy drinks will help combat obesity and help students maintain focus in class.

"It definitely hydrates the brain so their brain can work," said Terry Nieves, program director for nutrition education and gardens for the Mendocino County Office of Education. "It works all the nutrients around that need to be processed."

Others see the new law as evidence of a nanny state, yet another requirement of schools when money is tight and resources dwindling.

"It could potentially be another unanticipated cost that could affect our district," said Sandra Harrington, chief business officer for Ukiah Unified School District.

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