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Letter from Sonoma County, CA: Educators Responding to The Climate Crisis

Letter from Sonoma County, CA:  Educators Responding to The Climate Crisis

Editor’s Note: we are honored to repost some material written by Park Guthrie, 6th grade teacher and leader of Schools For Climate Action (S4CA). In his letter, Park shares about the ongoing climate crisis going on in the Sonoma, County communities where he lives and teaches, as well as the ways he’s taking action with his students to call for local districts and national organizations to speak out against the climate crisis. Park and his youth leaders will be a regular part of our ongoing work this year at SSWN as we focus on Climate Justice in Schools as one of our themes. Additionally, if you would like to contribute to an official GoFundMe fund for victims of the continuing California fires, go here (And just to clarify, S4CA is not sponsoring this fundraising effort.)

My name is Park Guthrie. I am a parent and a 6th-grade teacher in Sonoma County, California. Every student in my school was evacuated due to the Kincade Fire this past week. Some of my students were evacuated twice as the homes of friends where they had taken refuge were later included in an expanded evacuation zone.

S4CA Leader Park Guthrie and his kids in the aftermath of the 2017 fire in Sonoma County.

All of my students have experienced the direct and sometimes terrifying effects of 5 climate-related disasters in just the past 2 years. School has been closed for a total 14 disaster days due to 4 of these disasters: Tubb’s Fire (2017, 5 days), Camp Fire (2018, 2 days), Russian River Flooding (2019, 2 days), Kincade Fire (2019, 5 days).

Thanks only to the heroic efforts of 1,000s of first responders, the cities of Healdsburg, Windsor, and all of western Sonoma county were spared. Thank you, first responders! While none of my students lost homes, all of them suffered significant disruptions and varying degrees of fear and anxiety.

Middle Schoolers Learning About The Climate Crisis By Living Through Another Fire

On Friday, October 25th, the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in my Climate Advocacy class read an email from the Executive Director (ED) of the National Association of School Psychologists. They had written the ED and the NASP Leadership Assembly asking NASP to join the California Association of School Psychologists and 100 other education sector organizations and speak up for climate justice. The ED replied that NASP would not be speaking up for climate justice in the foreseeable future. Not because she doesn’t believe in the climate crisis—she applauded the students for their climate advocacy—but rather because NASP is silent on some issues that impact student mental health (such as tax policy, housing policy, and climate change) in order to protect their professional reputation. This confused us. 

The sky was hazy with smoke from the Kincade Fire less than 20 miles away. The classroom was hot and stuffy because the A/C was off and all windows were closed, due to the unhealthy air. In the next 48 hours, all of my students would be evacuated (some of them twice). School was closed for the week. This was our 14th disaster day in two years due to 4 different climate-related disasters. 

I am concerned that this most recent exposure to climate-related disasters combined with education sector silence (or worse) about climate neglect may shake my students’ sense of safety in the world and their optimism about the future. Please help us reframe the context by which students experience these disasters. 

Help us turn on a “firehose” of non-partisan climate action resolutions from the education sector. We have laid the groundwork; 104 education sector organizations have now spoken up for climate action, but 1,000s more (of the 75,000 total) could quickly join with some more outreach. Many of the resolutions have passed thanks to email or Twitter outreach from a single school stakeholder. 

The Kincade Fire of late October this month forced authorities to order an evacuation order over 180,000 people in Sonoma County.

Please share the following Medium article I wrote widely. It has links to template emails, resolutions, and resolution toolkits:  We Can All Be Second Responders to Climate Disaster. There is no need for any education leader or organization to be silent about climate justice. 

On Wednesday, November 6th my students and I have been invited to attend the California State Board of Education meeting in Sacramento. The Board President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond will give a statement supporting the Schools for Climate Action campaign and hopefully calling on education leaders across the country to join her in speaking up to help move Congress to act on climate to protect students. Your emails to local, state, and national education leaders over the next week will resonate with our social media outreach related to the November 6th event. 

Thanks in advance for your support. Let’s pass those resolutions and empower education leaders across the country to speak up together to help end climate neglect which threatens all of our students!

About The Author

Park Guthrie

Park Guthrie is a middle school teacher in Sonoma County, California. He founded Schools for Climate Action (S4CA) in 2017.

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