This piece was co-written by apprentice writers David Hao and Vicky Xu.
In June, the Toronto District School Board issued a ban on bringing and consuming drinking water in all science facilities in schools, including labs and classrooms.
Food, as all Marc Garneau students know, has always been banned in science facilities at school because of the health risk posed by consuming food in an unsafe environment such as a lab. Water, on the other hand, was an exception to this rule. Students could bring their water bottles in and take a drink in a lab or science classroom whenever they wanted. However, this is no longer the case.
What prompted the recent ban on water was a teacher accidentally consuming an unknown chemical after mistaking it for water. The substance was kept in a regular water bottle, which begs the question of why it wasn’t labelled if it could be so potentially harmful. The teacher’s vocal cords were damaged, causing pain when she spoke for extended periods of time. When news of the incident reached the TDSB, it was decided that students could not drink water in science rooms to avoid similar incidents.
There have been incidents of mistaking harmful substances for water at Garneau. However, one accident didn’t happen in a science facility, instead occurring in a regular classroom during an accounting class. Students in a chemistry class were supposed to bring in a liquid sample to test. They had these samples with them during their other classes. Many of the liquids were brought in regular water bottles. One student saw a bottle of laundry detergent, and, mistaking it for Gatorade, decided to take a drink from it. The student was unharmed, and the consequences were minimal.
This shows that even with the ban, accidents can happen anywhere. Had the student in this occurence been seriously harmed, would the TDSB have banned water everywhere in the school? Banning something outright isn’t an effective way of preventing further accidents. Instead of simply isolating and removing any objects or substances involved in the problem, the better approach is to better label potentially harmful chemicals. In this case, a superior response would be a rule for all potentially harmful substances brought to school to be clearly marked and labelled. This rule would also apply to any harmful substances already in the school, such as chemicals in a science lab. This would have prevented the teacher’s error of mistaking a chemical in a water bottle for water. It doesn’t make sense to ban something every time something bad happens. There are better ways to prevent accidents.
Students and staff alike are no longer allowed to consume water in science labs and classrooms. Science teachers are affected even more than students, as they spend most of their day at school in science rooms. “You have to remember that it inconveniences the teachers as well. It’s not a punishment for the students; the teachers as well are not allowed to [drink water] in class,” Ms. Woods explained. She also added that “it may inconvenience [the students and staff] a tiny bit, but it’s an hour and fifteen minutes. If you really need to have something to drink, you can just step outside. Most teachers are very understanding about that.”
The ban has not been well-received. It doesn’t prevent the incidents it targets, as is demonstrated by the “Gatorade” case, and it inconveniences people more than it helps them. To be fair, the effects of the ban are not overbearing. Yang Chen, a grade 12 science student commented, “I get thirsty in class, and it’s a really unnecessary hassle.” However, he did agree that having to drink outside wasn’t that big of a deal, when you put it in perspective. “It isn’t honestly as bad as people in other countries having to walk miles for water.”
However, no matter how small the inconvenience of the ban is, if it doesn’t really help, it’s unnecessary. At the end of the day, the ban has very limited effectiveness at preventing future accidents. They can still occur elsewhere. Then what? More bans? Will we not be able to eat or drink anything anywhere in school? Persistently banning things following an incident isn’t the correct course of action. Although we must not jeopardize our safety, we must also never forsake personal freedom in the name of it.