“Healthy Schools” legislation introduced this week in the D.C. Council would, for the first time, establish a school gardens program within the Office of the State Superintenent of Education as part of a sweeping package of food and environmental initiatives. And while the bill ( read previous posts here, here and here) does not mandate gardens in all of the city’s schools or provide specific funding for that purpose, it does require the school system to “develop a plan to expand gardens in public schools, including the removal of asphalt or cement to provide outdoor space for gardens.”
Good food advocates along with environmental groups have been struggling mightily to establish gardens in D.C. schools as a way to teach kids good eating habits and environmental stewardship. Often this job falls on already overworked teachers and parent volunteers, with each school working on its own to establish a garden site, build the garden and maintain it. The new legislation calls on the schools system to “provide training, planning, testing, and technical assistance” to schools building gardens. For the first time, it also requires the schools to “create curricula for using school gardens as educational tools.”
How to pay for garden construction remains an issue. The bill introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) requires the state schools superintendent to make grants for building school gardens available “when funds are appropriated.”
The school gardens program would be required to issue a report by September 2011 about the state of public school gardens in the city as well as “plans for expanding them.” School gardens would include a demonstration composting element “when feasible,” and food from the gardens could be served in school as long as the garden soil has tested safe.
Encouraging more gardens is one of several significant environmental upgrades contained in the “Healthy Schools” bill. The public school system would also be required to institute recycling of “paper, bottles, cans and cardboard…including food services.” The bill mandates a program for “composting of food waste” system-wide at public schools.
Specifically, the bill envisions the D.C. Public Schools, along with the Department of Public Works, the Office of Public Education Faicilities Modernization and the Department of the Environment working with the public schools food service provider–currently Chartwells– to establish a pilot program for composting food waste in public schools during the 2010-2011 school year, as long as funding is available.
Under the bill, schools are “encouraged to use only sustainable products” in meal service. Styrofoam trays “and other non-recyclable goods” would be prohibited in schools after October 1, 2014.
The legislation requires the school system to prepare by September 30, 2010 a “comprehensive report about waste, recycling and composting” in the city’s schools, including a recommendation and a timeline for reducing waste, eliminating products such as Styrofoam and “making public schools more eco-friendly.” The report would include a “school-by-school breakdown” of the public schools’ waste stream, “including tonnages, components, diversion rates.”
And, to make school environments more breathable, the legislation prohibits gas- or diesel-powered vehicles of any kind from idling more than one minute within 100 feet of any school–except to provide air conditioning when the National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning.
The bill also calls for newly built or substaintially refurbished D.C. schools to “aspire to meet” LEED certification of the gold level or higher, and to provide written certification to the Council in cases where the standard cannot be met.