The Durango School District 9-R board waded into the fluoride debate Tuesday night, endorsing keeping the mineral in the city of Durango’s water.
The issue will go to city voters as ordinance 1A. A “yes” vote in the April 4 election would mean the city would discontinue adding fluoride to the water and a “no” vote would allow the city to continue adding it. The item was added to the ballot after 34 Durango registered voters submitted a petition to the city.
“It’s an effective use of the board to address a topic important to keeping kids in school,” Board President Andy Burns said. “Fluoride supports the healthy growth and development of youth and enhances the learning process by eliminating health conditions now and in the future.”
Students needing dental care miss classes, and there is a clear link between missing school and lower achievement, he said.
“I’m not a dentist, but we’ve looked at the research, and over the last couple of decades, the incidence of cavities and tooth decay in people has declined dramatically,” Burns said.
The board had a healthy discussion at its February meeting as to whether or not it should take a position on the subject, he said.
“We believe it directly impacts our students and our schools,” he said.
Board Treasurer Stephanie Moran researched and wrote the resolution, which refers to the number of dental, medical and public health organizations that support adding fluoride to city water supplies. The board approved it unanimously.
“One in three of our students lives in poverty, and may not have access to good dental care,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said.
Burns said he’s not aware of any research specifically linking fluoride in the water to better academic achievement for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
“But it’s an inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay, which does level the playing field,” he said.
The district hasn’t advocated for the fluoride ballot item with its families, 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp said.
“We’ve been depending on some of our partners like San Juan Basin Public Health to inform our families,” she said.
The health department links to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for its information on fluoride. Burns said the board expects to get phone calls and emails about its decision.
This is the second endorsement of a ballot item affecting another government agency the board has made in the last six months. In the fall, the board supported La Plata County’s road and bridge tax, which voters did not approve, because the district’s school buses must drive on the deteriorating roads.