In light of climate change and rising fuel costs, there is a push by some members of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee to limit car use at the high school, with one particular member calling for an outright ban on student vehicle use.
The committee instructed the school council to brainstorm ideas for reducing car use and to report back in October.
Committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter is spearheading the plan. Mr. Manter, who is also a West Tisbury police officer, advised the high school to look into the idea at a meeting back in March. “We need to forbid kids from driving to school,” he said at the time. Then at the regular meeting this Monday, he expressed surprise at a perceived lack of progress.
“The carbon footprint of the school has to change,” he said. “We don’t want to wait another year before we change anything. There’s nothing like getting people to act.”
It is unclear how much support Mr. Manter has for his idea. High school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan, who is at a conference this week and could not be reached for comment, voiced concern back in March about making any top-down decision.
“We don’t want to do this by banning,” she told the Gazette. “We want to reduce the carbon footprint of the school but we’re trying to make it grassroots.”
Committee member Laurie Halt is keen to avoid making a decision that may be seen as hypocritical.
“We ask things of kids we wouldn’t ask ourselves,” she said at the meeting. “Are we going to sit outside and wait for the bus home?”
Max Nunes, a junior who attends monthly committee meetings as secretary of the student council, would be in the bus queue if such a ban went through.
“We’ve all watched An Inconvenient Truth in Biology class,” said Mr. Nunes, who is now running for council president, “and we’re interested in making the school greener. My fear is something like this would make students angry and quell any momentum to come up with improvements.”
Mr. Nunes is not sure that car use is the high school’s biggest problem in terms of energy consumption. “The lights are on all the time, there’s so much paper and we use plastic bottles at lunch,” he said. “It’s about developing better long-term habits, and the driving measure I see as a short-term one.”
He has been driving to school since the day after getting his license.
“It’s a big deal and it’s part of becoming independent,” he said, noting that it can also mean a little more precious shut-eye in the morning. “I used to get up every day for the school bus and would have to leave at 7 a.m.. Now I get up at 7,” he said.
Many high school students have among the longest working days on the Island. Micah Thanhauser, a senior at the high school, used to hitchhike or take the bus before he got his license.
“I’m leaving next year so it doesn’t really affect me but I’d definitely be against it,” he said, adding: “A lot of kids work after school. I’m there late three days a week and it takes over 40 minutes [to get home] on the bus.” He felt it inconceivable that a total ban would go through.
There are more cars at the high school in use on a daily basis than any other single place on the Island. According to assistant principal Neal Weaver, 193 students have high school parking permits. There are 143 staff members who work at the school, though staff do not necessarily use permits when they park on the grounds. Mr. Weaver puts the total permits at 355.
Speaking this week, Mr. Weaver stressed that the whole idea of limiting car use is in the very early stages. “It would be very irresponsible to suggest that there is anything in place at the moment,” he said, adding: “Is it ever going to work? It really depends.”
While all student parking permits are numbered and traceable, staff parking permits are used from year to year and, according to Mr. Weaver, not always obtained by staff, who park in a different area than students at the high school. This factor would make taking any punitive measures on teachers and other staff especially difficult. As Mr. Weaver pointed out, it would also be a question of enlisting the participation of parents not to drive their children to school.
Steve Nixon, also an assistant principal, who will take the reins from Mrs. Regan as principal this summer, suggested a fee system on parking permits, which would then be used to fund further environmental improvements at the school.
Mr. Nunes, who voiced support for Mr. Nixon’s fee proposal this week, told the committee that though the student council had been busy with examinations, preliminary thoughts included organizing an assembly with a guest speaker to discuss ways of greening the school.
Superintendent of schools Dr. James H. Weiss suggested that the council should go further.
“Skipper [Manter] wants some action,” he said. “The committee needs to get back by October with something.”
Mr. Manter said motivating people to change is key.
“People talk a lot, but when it comes to making sacrifices it doesn’t come as easy as lip service,” he said by telephone. “As well as the environmental concerns, it’s a money saver and that money could be gong to kids’ college funds. Everything needs to be looked at, but this is a good starting point.”
Though he drove to Monday’s meeting, Mr. Manter walks frequently and said he aims to purchase a bicycle this month.