In March of 2022, after six years of student protests and community campaigning, Portland Public Schools (PPS) in Oregon passed a sweeping climate policy, PPS Climate Crisis Response, Climate Justice, and Sustainable Practices Policy, that directs the district’s climate action for the next three decades. Twenty-one school districts across the nation have passed commitments to become carbon neutral, but none are as comprehensive or progressive as Portland’s.
Students Lead The Charge Against Climate Change
The district’s decarbonization goals are one of the most ambitious in the country, matching the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change goals. In addition, the two other objectives add a climate justice component and ensure that the students and community reap the benefits of the district’s commitment.
Jane Comeault, a community advocate and PPS parent, who advocated for the district to tackle climate change, credits the breadth of the policy to the community’s involvement in its creation.
The district first passed a climate resolution, Resolution 5272, in 2016 after students conducted climate strikes and protests demanding the district do more to ensure a healthy future for their generation. The resolution directed the district to develop an implementation plan for climate change and justice literacy.
After the resolution was passed, a group of community members, including parents and a former school board member, solicited feedback from the community, district staff, and students on the next steps to take. They transformed that feedback into a policy that was then taken to the school board for review. The policy was reworked over 30 times, but the school board and Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero listened intently to the voices of their students and community and passed the legislation on March 1, 2022, six years after the initial resolution and three years after the first draft of the policy. The policy introduced carbon neutrality and student and staff wellness goals.
Carbon Neutrality: Mapping the Road to a Sustainable Future
PPS began mobilizing their climate work as the policy passed and now, just one year later, PPS is implementing the pieces of the policy. The first step was to hire Kat Davis, Advisor for Climate Justice, to direct the work. Kat hit the ground running and has built the necessary structures to lead and evaluate PPS’ approach. By developing an evaluation plan for the district’s greenhouse gas impact and a decarbonization roadmap to organize the series of complex steps in school modernization, new building construction, and building maintenance, Kat is ensuring the district’s approach is methodical and efficient.
Kat also launched the Climate Crisis Response Committee to operate as oversight for and to provide a timeline and cadence for the district’s work. Consistent with the spirit of the policy, the committee includes members from various levels of experience and backgrounds, including community members, parents, and students.
Additionally, the policy has helped the district push their building design standards to the next level and incorporate technologies that will help increase their efficiency while reducing their emissions.
Most importantly, the district has followed through on their commitment to encourage climate literacy in their students. Kat is in the process of relaunching the Climate Justice Youth Advisory to provide leadership skills for students who are passionate about climate change and create projects to take back to their schools. The youth advisory serves to empower students and provide hope that they can face climate change through informed action.
Portland Public Schools is proud of their climate leadership and hopes to set an example for other school districts. Kat Davis is one of the many inspiring school leaders who just recently spoke at Generation180’s Clean Energy Schools Symposium in Washington, DC from March 26-28, 2023. This was the first-ever national convening of Generation180’s School Leadership in Clean Energy Network, which includes school decision makers who are actively inspiring and supporting other schools across the country to make the switch to clean energy.