Dewan: Our youth need climate resilient schools
San Jose youth at a climate action strike in front of City Hall on Earth Day, April 22, 2022. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    The recent winter rain offers potential drought relief, but the severity of the storms had detrimental impacts throughout the state, including power outages that disrupted learning. Locally, several schools experienced closures due to storm related power outages.

    Schools have faced several years of ongoing disruption to learning from the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, poor air quality, extreme heat and severe weather. Extreme weather has already impacted schools across the country. Many of California’s school buildings are not equipped to address the challenges caused by climate change. Some of our communities face disproportionate climate change impacts.

    In a typical year, children attend at least 180 days of school. Whether or not they are protected from impacts of climate change is often determined by conditions on campus.

    Climate change, exposure to pollutants and food insecurity harm children’s health and disrupt learning.

    Now is the time to invest in our school campus infrastructure to ensure continuity of learning and maintain school operations during periods of extreme heat, power outages and when outside air quality drops to unhealthy levels.

    A 2021 K12 Climate Action Plan by Aspen Institute identified needs and opportunities focused on education, including school campuses. A statewide approach to address climate change is needed and should include the following:

    • Integrate education in plans to address climate change.
    • Establish targets and support implementation for transitioning schools to clean energy, building electrification and electric buses.
    • Prioritize communities most impacted by climate change and education inequities.
    • Center student voices in developing plans to support the education sector in taking climate action.

    In 2021, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona released a climate adaptation plan. An important component of that plan is climate-ready school sites and facilities.

    Proactive planning such as climate action planning, providing students with mental health supports at schools and transitioning schoolyards to absorb stormwater and reduce heat can create healthy spaces to learn and play. These efforts can build the resilience necessary to adapt.

    Investments in school campuses such as energy efficiency, renewable energy and contributions to carbon neutrality are imperative. Targeting investments in public school infrastructure is essential in areas with higher air pollution and where worsening heat and poor air quality days expose children and teachers to asthma, bronchitis or cardiovascular disease. Last week, the Santa Clara County Office of Education released a refreshed webpage with resources for schools and school communities.

    Resources specific to facilities can be found at sccoe.to/facilitiesresources.

    Investments in climate resilient school infrastructure protects children’s health and preserves continuity of learning.

    San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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