School District 71 plans to take an environmental assessment of its properties. File photo

School District 71 taking eco-assessment of its properties in Comox Valley

Plan includes watersheds, streams, at-risk species and culturally significant sites

The environment has been on the minds of students these days.

Students in the Comox Valley and around the world have been undertaking climate strikes in recent weeks to demand action to reduce the effects of climate change.

The board of education has evidently taken some inspiration from them to do its part. At the first board meeting of the school year on Sept. 24, the trustees supported a motion to conduct an environmental assessment of all of its properties.

RELATED STORY: Youth Environmental Action presents climate asks to local leaders

Trustee Sheila McDonnell, who represents Baynes Sound, Hornby Island and Denman Island, introduced the motion.

“I think that we don’t know enough about the properties we have,” she told the rest of the board. “They are environmentally sensitive.”

She said for the district to be proper stewards, they should find out more about what is located on school lands throughout the area, especially when it comes to areas such as stream beds on site. McConnell also cited other considerations such as any cultural significance associated with the properties.

The motion directs the superintendent to arrange for an environmental assessment of all properties, with a focus “to identify areas of environmental sensitivity, vulnerable watersheds and streams, at-risk species and/or cultural significance.”

McDonnell further described the assessment of properties in terms of basic maintenance.

“It’s like getting your brakes checked on a vehicle,” he said

Trustee Ian Hargreaves said he supported the idea, but he wanted to know about the potential costs of the assessment. He also assumed this project will be specialized work.

“This is not something that we have trained people on staff, I believe, that would be able to do this. There may be, but I would think we’re going to go outside to bring in expertise,” he said.

Superintendent Tom Demeo, who described the idea of the assessment as “timely,” confirmed the need to bring in outside help that to do the environmental assessment.

Board chair Janice Caton also expressed support for the idea.

When the motion went to a vote, all of the trustees at the meeting voted in support. Trustee Michelle Waite was not in attendance at the meeting.

Demeo said staff would now gather information about the scope of the assessment and what this would potentially cost before bringing the information back to the board.

As to the climate strike issue, Demeo confirmed that while the district does not encourage students to miss class, it would not take any disciplinary action against students taking part in the protests. The district also received a letter from Teri Mooring, the president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, saying the province’s 43,000 teachers supported the students and asked boards of education to support them as well.

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