A team of parents, students and climate activists have been pushing for the decarbonization of Evanston/Skokie School District 65. These activists are part of D65 Climate Action Teams, a group of mostly staff and parents working to promote environmental awareness in the district.
The district is currently undergoing a facilities assessment and putting together a Facilities Master Plan. D65 Climate Action Teams is advocating that the master plan also include a road map to decarbonization—or the reduction of carbon emissions.
To raise awareness for the team’s efforts, students drew pictures and wrote messages in chalk outside the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center before the November 10 meeting of the Personnel, Building & Grounds and Finance Committee. At this meeting, several members of D65 Climate Action Teams spoke up during public comment and urged the district to prioritize climate action in its facilities assessment.
“This infrastructure analysis and upcoming decisions is a crucial, once-in-a-generation opportunity for District 65 to demonstrate a true commitment to the well-being of its community,” said Dr. Marie A Cabiya, a member of the Climate Action group.
Another member who spoke at the meeting, local architect Sylvia Wooller, also attended a city Environment Board meeting November 11. She asked members of the city panel to help influence the district, and push for the hiring of a sustainability coordinator.
Environment Board member Cherie Fisher agreed the district needs to step up its commitments to climate activism and called its environmental record “pretty abysmal,” citing that some of the buildings don’t even recycle. To support D65 Climate Action Teams’ efforts, the city’s Environment Board will write a letter to the school district.
Requests for the district
Dr. Cabiya presented a list of questions at the recent school board meeting. The questions centered on the facilities assessment report, and whether it will include a review of energy usage, HVAC equipment and building rooftops.
Dr. Cabiya also asked when the district will change its electricity provider, “which delivers 95% fossil fuel electricity,” and who will be responsible for implementing the D65 Climate Action Road Map.
Wooller, the next speaker, recommended that the district hire a full-time sustainability coordinator. Wooller said the district’s current environmental efforts are not consistent with the goals outlined in the City of Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP). These goals include becoming carbon-neutral and zero-waste by 2050, and to have 100% renewable energy by 2030.
“Urgent and aggressive action is needed in order to align operations with the City of Evanston’s CARP goals,” Wooller said.
Wooller also discussed the curriculum, and said that discussing the climate crisis for the first time in sixth grade is too late. Environmental literacy and environmental justice should play an important role in class curriculums, she said.
The last speaker, Becky Brodsky, a Zero Waste Consultant, quoted a recent article published by the Green Schools National Network. Education leaders need to respond to climate change in the same ways they responded to the COVID-19 crisis, which involved “a complete overhaul of every aspect of daily life for school communities,” Brodsky said, quoting the article.
D65 Climate Action Teams, formerly D65 Green Teams, was started about four years ago, though some of its members have been advocating for climate action in the district for nearly a decade. In addition to pushing for a decarbonization road map, the team is working to make sure students and staff compost food waste, and to enable that more native plants flourish.
Cordogan, Clark & Associates, the architectural firm that will prepare the Facilities Master Plan, reached out to D65 Climate Action Teams last week to ask for the group’s input. In an interview with the RoundTable, Dr. Cabiya said it isn’t clear yet what exactly will be included in the facilities assessment, and the team wants to make sure that the district’s plans are consistent with CARP. D65 Climate Action Teams members are meeting with Cordogan on November 12 to further discuss the facilities assessment.
Dr. Cabiya said the district has a large carbon footprint, and could make significant reductions in its contribution to climate change. Additionally, as educators of the future generation, school leaders need to set a good example, she said.
“The district has a particular responsibility to show the youth it serves that it’s committed to the future,” Dr. Cabiya said.