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Flint Community Schools want kids to bring bottled water to school

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel
Michigan Radio

Superintendent of Flint public schools, Bilal Tawwab, has asked parents to send their kids to school with bottled water. This comes after doctors found a spike in lead levels among children. This is likely due to the city's tap water.

Last year the city started using Flint River water. Since then, they’ve struggled with E. coli, chlorine burns, and now major concern about the lead levels.

In a press release Tawwab wrote: “We are seeking donations of bottled water at all of our schools and have reached out to community partners who can help us ensure all our students are safe and healthy during the school day.”

One Flint charter school, Eagle’s Nest Academy, has been using bottled water since the beginning of the school year.

Principal Carlita Earl stood outside the front door Friday morning, offering bleary eyed students enthusiastic greetings as they step off the school bus.

Earl says using bottled water requires that everyone pitch in.

“We bring bottled water, and we have parents who are donating water, as well as other agencies are donating water for our students.”

She estimates that the 150 students in her school use 600 bottles of water a day and that adds up.

“It's quite expensive,” Earl admits.

Toranda Riouse was dropping off her 4-year-old son at Eagle’s Nest’s side entrance. She said, as things stand, she’s not letting her family drink the “filthy and nasty” city water.

Having no water makes her family’s morning routine particularly hard. Riouse said Friday morning she wasn’t able to take her medicine because she had no safe water.

While Riouse feels lucky that her son has bottled water at school, she thinks it’s not fair to the school.

“They shouldn’t have to go through all that,” she says.

Instead, she believes it’s the city’s responsibility.

Now that Flint has issued a Lead Advisory, Flint Community Schools is following Eagle’s Nest’s example and asking parents and local organizations to provide bottled water for every school in the district.

But there are still some schools in Flint that are using the tap water. A few miles across town at Genesee STEM Academy, a charter school, parents are concerned.

Philip Liddell had just biked over with his three children. Standing beside his bicycle in the back parking lot, he pointed out where his skin is peeling and said, “It's really bad. It's really bad. My face’s burning as we speak.” 

He’s told his children not to use the water at school. But he’s still frustrated with the city’s response.  

“They’re too busy talking about politics and all that, so they don't really worry about no water. Forget it. Kill them. Let them die over there,” Liddell says. “I don't know why they playing like that. That's America for you.”

Liddell says buying water is taking a big bite out of his monthly budget. And now, he’s out of money.

“I just ran out, so I got to wait until next month when I get my pension,” explains Liddell. Until then he says he and his kids will just be taking “little sips” of water.

Another parent, Alfonzo Frazer, thinks only a miracle can fix Flint’s water problems.

“Moses, yah, that’s what we need,” he says.