Have you heard about the K-12 learning resources developed by Fortis BC and marketed to teachers across BC? Fortis calls its program Energy Leaders, and it presents natural gas as a necessary and harmless energy source, without mentioning any of the negative health or environmental impacts that come from burning fossil fuels.
Here are just a few examples.
What's the problem?
There is a clear self-serving interest in fossil fuel companies providing learning resources to schools, especially as part of a science curriculum.
In this case, Fortis BC marketed its material directly to teachers via email, in an attractive, ready-to-use form that would appeal to teachers facing multiple challenges in delivering lessons during the pandemic. There is nothing illegal in what Fortis has done, because learning resources don't have to be approved by school boards or the Ministry of Education. But should large corporations who have resources beyond those of most school districts be taking advantage of circumstances like the pandemic to promote their products?
And should an energy company be promoting and normalizing the use of fossil fuels through an education curriculum, in spite of overwhelming evidence of the direct connection between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and global warming driving climate change, particularly in BC, where communities experienced deadly heat domes, wildfires and flooding over the past year alone?
This issue was raised by Dogwood and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), who joined forces to bring this to the attention of parents and school boards. Presentations have been made to school boards in Victoria, Vancouver and Sooke, and CAPE started an open letter to the Minister of Education in BC. You can read more about CAPE's campaign in this article.
Dogwood and CAPE also recently co-hosted an information session for parents with For Our Kids: you can view the recording here.
While the school boards are still considering what action they will take, the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association recently passed a motion not to use the Fortis BC learning resources.
Meanwhile, Fortis has temporarily taken the Energy Leaders program off its website, with this message:
At this time Energy Leaders is temporarily unavailable as we conduct our annual review of the lesson plans and supporting materials to ensure they provide relevant and balanced information. Please check back at the start of the fall 2022/23 school year.
What can parents do?
Inform your school board trustees
Although school boards do not need to approve learning resources for use within their district schools, they do have the authority to determine whether those resources are appropriate and how they are chosen, as well as the responsibility for recommending learning resources for their district schools.
Parents have a direct connection with their local school boards: school trustees are elected representatives of the community and accountable to the community. So it makes sense for parents to raise this issue with their local school board and request them to:
act on their authority to determine whether the Fortis BC learning resources are appropriate and should be used by schools in the district,
inform the Minister of Education of their concerns about the learning resources, and
ensure that teachers in the district have access to science-based curriculum resources
For Our Kids, CAPE and Dogwood will provide resources and support you in contacting and presenting to your school board: email us at [email protected]
Email BC's Minister of Education and Child Care
You can use CAPE's letter as a template to create your own, letting the minister know why you're concerned about industry and corporate influence in schools. Email Minister Jennifer Whiteside at: [email protected] You can also copy your MLA (find contact information here) and your school board.
Share with your network and get a conversation going!
It's a challenge for parents to keep up with everything that's happening at their kids' schools, but this is an example of why it matters, and an opportunity to start a conversation about what students are learning about climate change.