Langley Advance Times is offering this weekly feature, called “At Your Service.”
It’s another forum in which to put questions to our local politicians about key issues facing our community and its residents.
Using a basic question-and-answer format, elected officials will be asked one question at a time and given the opportunity to respond (to a maximum of 250 words) on that said issue.
Alternating between elected groups, Langley City and Langley Township councils, Langley school board, Langley MLAs, and Langley MPs each have a chance to participate.
The answers provided will be published in their entirety online Sundays.
Each school trustee was asked the same question: Should the district track the number of students who get to school by walking, cycling, and public transit, and set goals to increase those numbers to combat climate change?
Board chair Rod Ross
A. We all need to have boundaries. Having painted lines on the highway keeps everyone moving forward safely in their lane.
One of the boundaries that we have in the school district is our responsibility to provide a safe environment while they are in our buildings. That is our lane and we must stay in that lane.
As society puts pressure on the education system to expand into other lanes, we lose the focus that we cannot afford to lose.
At present we are being challenged to provide in school daycare for pre-kindergarten. All these additional mandates are good, but they can come with a cost of losing our main goal of educating our future leaders.
While the question has merit, I would vote for us to “stay in our lane” and not get into expanding our responsibility.
Trustee Shelley Coburn
A. To be quite honest, the district doesn’t need another thing to do, especially tracking.
The district already tracks so much, and since the pandemic they have taken tracking to an entirely different level.
Tracking this information would require systems to be set up and implemented.
Even if they were not entirely at their maximum and had the capacity to track, this the data will not address the why — why are kids being driven or taking buses and why are they not walking and cycling.
As a district, we can look at this data and set goals. But it does really do much to address what is behind the numbers.
A big contributor to why kids aren’t walking is because of where they are attending.
Many kids in the district are not attending their neighbourhood school.
Since 2002, children have been able to attend any school in the province so long as there is space.
The result — less children attending their neighbourhood school, which in many cases is within walking distance, requiring the use of modes of transportation other than walking or cycling.
Although I am in support of initiatives to combat climate change and recognize public education is a natural and intuitive partner, I do not think this is the best use of our resources, nor is it the most effective way to address the climate crisis when it comes to what can be done at a district level.
Trustee Charlie Fox
A. The issue of climate change is a huge issue with many complicating factors.
The school district is always looking for efficiencies and taking initiatives to lessen the carbon footprint.
The district has over 42 building sites, a fleet of service vehicles and buses, and it my opinion, focusing the energy of our staff in working to make an impact and combat climate change involving these aspects of school district operations is where we need to put our energies.
The tracking of student movement to and from school is best done at the school level, as the district does not have the staff available to engage in this time-consuming exercise.
I would suggest this would be a great project for students to pursue on their own campus, for example, students enrolling in a secondary environmental science course may want to take this on – not only for their school but the family of schools in their area.
School District #35 has made several important decisions and taken several bold initiatives to combat climate change, including recently purchasing two electric buses, we have a staff member wholly focused on energy management and energy savings – all in the name of good environmental stewardship and responding to the challenge of climate change.
On top of that our new schools all meet or exceed building code expectations related to climate action targets. The District needs to continue to focus its staff and financial resources on these big picture initiatives and budget commitments.
Trustee Suzanne Perreault
A. If this is done in an equitable manner, examining the multitude of needs family face within the community to ensure their students get to school in a safe way, examining thoughts such as:
• need of students with disabilities
• needs of students impacted by location
• needs of students interfacing with socioeconomic impacts
• bike lanes
• increased crosswalks, road markings, and lighting
• School zone signs (i.e.: parking limits; crosswalks; loading/unloading; no stopping; passenger loading)
• Potential car-fee zones
• Bussing routes
Then yes, creating an action travel plan is an important conversation to embark on supporting the climate discussion.
However, I believe this is a conversation that would best be seated within the collaborative relationship with the municipalities and the school district. How we develop communities around schools must improve. taking into consideration this question.
Also high on my radar is student safety on our roads.
Our communities are developing at a rapid pace. We’ve have yet to catch up with pre-existing communities like Aldergrove, DW Poppy, Peterson Road, etc. who are restricted to a variety of safe and accessible options.
We can move our eyes up to 200 Street north, where we are in desperate need of crosswalks and lighting moving students and staff across the street safely to access R.E. Mountain.
The short of the conversation is yes, it needs to be done in a fulsome collaborative manner that has calls to action for the collective to move towards an action travel plan creating safe routes to schools, decreasing motorized transportation, and contributing to healthy living.
Trustee David Tod
A. While I agree that we should encourage walking and biking to schools, I truly believe that administration has more pressing issues currently.
There is only so much that we can ask principals to do.
I understand the intent of the question and yes in different times.
Trustee Tony Ward
A. Environmental education and our collective and individual responsibility with respect to sustainability needs to be taught, kept current, and further developed in schools K-12.
Students need to build the knowledge and skills necessary to address complex and challenging environmental issues, as well as understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment.
Nevertheless, our focus needs to be on student achievement: enhancing educational outcomes for all students.
Although an idea like this would seem, at first, to be a reasonable project – in reality a tracking system, supporting database, ongoing analysis, and reporting out would only take away from our mission to grow healthy, whole-minded learners.
Whatever, and wherever, we direct our efforts redirects our resources from other areas.
Though school districts are often faced with considering well-intentioned side projects, we owe it to Langley students to provide them the best possible education (given our limited funding) to ensure they can thrive in a rapidly changing world where they can realize their full potential; we need to stay laser focused to that end.
Furthermore, specific students’ transportation plans and methods to and from schools is best determined by parents and guardians, with the school district assisting only with the consideration and implementation of busing where necessary and judicious (given our funding limits and budgetary restrictions).
Lastly, the Langley School District places significant emphasis on mental health. Considering that, students (and parents) don’t need any added daily pressure; force-fitting an unrealistic or non-viable student transportation ideal may add to already full plates.
Trustee Marnie Wilson
A. This could be a great initiative for a school climate club.
Education is underfunded, so to put money towards something that is not in the budget means taking money from somewhere else, like supports for students.
The ongoing issues with safe walking/biking routes, very restrictive transportation (bussing) policy and a lack of public transit make Langley a difficult place to navigate, thus challenging for these types of initiatives.
Climate change is a huge issue, I will continue to advocate for changes to the districts transportation policy and work with other levels of government to advocate for safer routes to schools, so that Langley can become more walkable and we can do our part to save the planet.
Next week, Langley MLAS are being asked: What is one thing the province should do to prepare our highways, pipelines, and power transmission infrastructure for the harsh weather of a future impacted by climate change?
Watch for their answers online Sunday.