ITHACA, N.Y.—The push for the Ithaca City School District to commit to its own Green New Deal had another visible step Tuesday, with a rally held outside of the Board of Education offices before students from the Lehman Alternative Community School presented a challenge to the board.

Students Alexa Palumbo-Martin and Sofia Schaff, both members of environmental advocacy group Sunrise Movement’s chapter at LACS, presented a list of requests to the Board of Education: shift to full solar power usage by 2025, buy only electric buses going forward to replace old buses, establish a more recyclable-friendly food purchase and waste disposal process, composting programs and report to the ICSD Climate and Sustainability Commission, which would have community members, students and staffers on it to continue progress on the district’s Green New Deal.

“Taking these actions will put us in step with the commitments of our community,” Palumbo-Martin said. “The Ithaca Green New Deal has committed the city to being carbon-neutral by 2030. […] Our district can help the community make this happen.”

Watch the full ICSD Board of Education meeting here.

ICSD Chief Operations Officer Amanda Verba said the district explored putting solar panels at the Danby campus, but that the location of the campus makes it infeasible barring spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” She said it could happen in the future but at the time it wouldn’t work. Verba continued that the district could examine putting solar panels on the top of buildings, but she wasn’t sure of the ability of buildings in ICSD to support panels on their roofs.

Verba said composting processes were fairly common in ICSD prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that she did want to see the district get back to that.

“I would be happy to bring that back again,” Verba said.

Several students, both student liaisons and from the audience, expressed frustration with the district’s policies on sustainability, though the board pushed back a bit by saying there is some progress underway, even if it’s not widely discussed. Board member Sean Eversley Bradwell mentioned that ICSD would be trying to participate in an electric bus program through New York State, and several board members cited an earth-source heating project that is underway at Enfield Elementary School.

Member Nicole LaFave encouraged the students to stay engaged with holding the board accountable on green policies, noting the success that students had in advocating for more inclusive changes to the school calendar, several of which were accepted and implemented.

“I would charge each one of you to keep coming back, tell us what we need to be doing,” LaFave said.

There were a few questions regarding the budget that will be voted on by the public on May 17. ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown also directed others with questions to an upcoming budget FAQ page, though that is not yet live. Verba said she hoped to have the page posted by Monday, May 2.

Kelly Evans Resigns from Board of Education

Kelly Evans staged an impressive insurgent campaign last year on a platform of using an outsider voice to keep the Board of Education accountable from the inside. Unfortunately, Evans had to announce her resignation from the board after just under one year Tuesday.

While intentionally vague, an emotional Evans indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted her personally and several board members offered their condolences.

“It was not an easy decision to make, I have talked quite a bit with Sean [Eversley Bradwell] and wanted to make this decision before it was too late to announce that there would be a fourth seat available for the community,” Evans said. “This pandemic has taken a toll on everybody in every way, and I have not been excluded from that. It has been emotional, it has been a physical toll, and it has just hit everybody in so many ways. I have experienced a great loss from it, and I just want to thank the board for being so kind during my time.”

Members of the board offered their sympathy and appreciation for Evans’ time on the board.

“I so appreciate our conversations, our discussions, and most importantly, our debates, it makes any school board sharper when we can have conversations,” said Eversley Bradwell.

“We all wish you well, I’m deeply sorry that you’ve had an especially difficult time during this pandemic,” said member Moira Lang. “I appreciate how hard you tried to stick with what you committed to, but things happen you couldn’t have possibly foreseen.”

Patricia Wasyliw and others echoed their sentiments. There will now be four available positions during the Board of Education elections on May 17.

IHS Proposed Schedule

Ithaca High School officials then took the forefront, fleshing out their latest scheduling proposal and some of the feedback they have received from students and staffers. A formal decision was not made on the schedule and discussion will continue, though a new schedule has been under consideration for several weeks.

Officials said that 87 percent of students take seven or fewer classes, and of the 166 students who take eight or more classes, over 60 percent of them access the zero period. Additionally, 144 students do not have a lunch in their schedule, and officials said they believe that lunch is crucial for a break during the day (and that 144 students is about 11 percent, far lower than the historical average of around 20 percent who do not have a scheduled lunch).

IHS Principal Jason Trumble said that the seven-period schedule “prioritizes student and staff mental health and wellbeing” while balancing the current course offerings of the district. An eight-period schedule plus universal lunch would leave “more than 40 percent of students with 2 or more free periods,” and plus it does not fit into the Ithaca Teachers Association’s current contract.

Trumble added that transportation options have been confirmed for all students who want to go to zero period, and that the course offerings for that period are still expanding and being communicated to students.

Saar said that student autonomy is the biggest concern he has heard from students, in that some students enjoy skipping lunch to take things like art electives, for one example. That allows students an appropriate amount of time in the day to take something they are interested in that might be outside of the requisite curriculum.

“Due to the amount of required classes we have, especially as underclassmen, it’s very hard to do that,” Saar said. “School as a whole is stressful, and many students think it’s important to keep control of that in students’ hands.”

The benefits outweigh the benefits of universal lunch, Saar said.

Other News and Notes

  • The board also unanimously approved a settlement agreement with a former student who alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a former principal in the district from the 1960s. The Ithaca Voice is not naming the former student as an alleged victim of sexual abuse, but a public lawsuit was filed in Tompkins County Court under the Child Victims Act in January 2022. The settlement is for $37,500 and would end the victim’s lawsuit but also includes the district not admitting any guilt in the matter. Previous attempts to reach the victim’s attorney for comment have been unsuccessful. In the suit, the accused abuser is only identified as “Mr. Roum,” a former principal of DeWitt Middle School when the victim, who is now in their mid-60s, was around 12-13 years old. There was no further discussion of the settlement of lawsuit.
  • As previously reported, there will be a public hearing on the budget held on May 10.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com