Should SD46 declare a state of climate emergency?

Roughing It

At School District No.46’s (SD46) first board meeting of the school year, staff presented the district’s new strategic plan, comprising a vision, mission and affirmation statement as well as a set of goals the board and staff will use to guide decisions over the next four years.

Government strategic plans are often derided as meaningless dust collectors. Superintendent Patrick Bocking admitted as much at Wednesday’s meeting – reassuring the board this district will be keeping a gleam on its document.

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When a teacher in the audience asked about the biggest changes from the previous plan, board chair Pammila Ruth responded that mental health was prioritized since it was becoming an “overall issue” at SD46, while Bocking highlighted the addition of an Indigenous affirmation and said the public consultation was “far more complete” this time.

At least one member of the public was interested in seeing another change in the plan – a declaration of a climate emergency. He copied Coast Reporter on a letter urging the district to consider it.

The strategic plan has already been adopted and so the chance of any amendments is likely slim, but it’s worth the question, especially given the lively spate of rallies in which students and teachers participated last spring, and which are expected to ramp up again in a week’s time.

Should SD46 declare a climate emergency?

Only one school district in B.C. and possibly Canada has declared a climate emergency. The Greater Victoria School District did so with approval from its board last June. That emergency declaration came with the requirement that its superintendent create a climate change action plan, according to reporting by the Times Colonist.

If that’s what would be expected from a declaration, then by that measure SD46 is ahead of the game.

Later in the meeting, Bocking announced the district is taking on its own environmental action plan, in direct response to the strategic plan’s goals for students to “have the knowledge and skills to contribute to the care of our planet and its changing climate” and that the district support “comprehensive environmental initiatives.”

When explaining the rationale for the action plan Bocking hinted at requests from the public for the district to take a stronger stance on climate change.

“[What] we did hear from time to time at consultations, was the acknowledgement that we have a climate change issue that is well backed up by science and that it’s our responsibility to do something about it,” he told trustees.

The plan, which is expected to be brought to committee in March, could include consultation with facilities, transportation and the district’s student leadership team, and once complete, would be introduced to the student body “in a way that is developmentally appropriate,” said Bocking.

There’s another worthwhile question implied by that statement – can the students of SD46 handle such a blunt, and frankly frightening, declaration?

At least one teacher has told Coast Reporter young people are already in deep. One student responded to climate change by telling her, “We should all just die.”

Should SD46 declare a climate emergency? Perhaps that’s beside the point, since a climate action plan is moving ahead, and students of all ages are already acting on the issue. Whether we want to admit it or not, students are deeply and, in some cases, painfully aware of the problem.

So given Ruth’s comments about mental health at the district, instead of deliberating on how to break the news of climate change to children, perhaps the district should deal with how the news is breaking them.

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