Lunenburg mom angry over school district’s water drinking policy

LUNENBURG, Mass. — Ashley Hovey recently noticed her 10-year-old daughter was coming home from Turkey Hill Elementary with her re-usable water bottle practically untouched. She wasn’t drinking from the bottle at school and Hovey couldn’t believe the reason why.

“She told me it’s because there’s a policy at school. They have to ask permission, leave the classroom, [then drink in the hallway] so she’s trying to not do it as much,” Hovey said.

Hovey said she called the school and was told students have to drink water in designated “mask break” zones. She said the district told her it was part of COVID-19 safety protocols to prevent kids from removing their masks in class.

“A child should be able to sit and have a sip of water,” Hovey said. “I think that’s putting a barrier on access to water. It is creating something that children have to overcome.”

Lunenburg Public Schools Superintendent Kate Burham said her district is just following DESE guidelines.

“Students are not being denied access to potable water,” Burham wrote in an email to Boston 25. “One of the protocols included in our Reopen Plan was to have students step just outside the classroom door in order to remove their mask and take a drink from their refillable water bottle.  In this way, the student is getting a brief mask break and a water break.”

Burham said her district based its COVID-19 safety protocols for the 2020-21 school year on DESE’s guidelines and didn’t feel the need to adjust the protocols for the 2021-22 school year.

“It should be noted that the positivity rate in our community has been consistently higher than the state average this entire school year and we felt relaxing mitigation strategies was not prudent for the return to school in August or at any time since,” Burham said.

Burham said the protocol has been in place for 18 months “without issue.” However, Hovey believes it hasn’t been strictly enforced until now. She said her daughter didn’t mention anything about it until recently.

“No one should be told they can’t have water, especially children,” Hovey said.

The protocol may not be around much longer. Burham said the district will reevaluate its COVID-19 rules next week.

“We have a COVID Safety Protocol Review Team, they have met this year and upon their recommendation we have relaxed or increased mitigation protocols.  Our Team is meeting next week to review mitigation protocols.  This protocol will be among them,” Burham said.