Fairfax County is the 10th largest school division in the United States, home to almost 200,000 students, and uses the second largest fleet of school buses in the country with 1,625 buses.
And as of last week, local school districts have the chance to start replacing diesel-fueled buses with electric buses, stemming from efforts made by Mothers Out Front Fairfax County, a local branch of a national advocacy group dedicated to ensuring a livable climate for all children through various initiatives.
The group of mothers decided to come together in February to begin work on the electric school bus campaign, which is one of the many initiatives parents can choose from when they create a local chapter of Mothers Out Front.
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While the current yellow buses transport local children to and from school, they also emit thousands of toxins into the air, which are more harmful to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of children, according to the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.
“I started it with one other mom and we’ve had guidance from the national organization to help with our launch,” says Julie Kimmel, a Fairfax County mother who has a 4-year-old daughter. “Since our campaign launched a few weeks ago, we’ve seen it grow so rapidly and it’s a huge win for us.”
Following months of planning, discussion with the county school board and other local companies, the group launched its campaign on Aug. 20, announcing to the community how the replacement of buses would have a positive impact on the climate, and the children who grow up in it. Just nine days later, Virginia-based company Dominion Energy officially announced its commitment to phasing in electric school buses for local school districts over the next decade.
Each electric school bus costs around $300,000, and Dominion plans on paying the economic difference of $200,000 for each school bus in its territory of Virginia, with the ultimate goal of replacing 100% of the diesel-fueled buses by 2030. The initial phase of the bus deployment aims to have 50 electric buses up and running at county schools by the end of 2020.
Currently, bus manufacturers and school districts are submitting proposals to get involved with the program as early as next year, giving Kimmel hope that Fairfax County Public Schools will be among the first to receive the chargeable buses.
The 25 to 30 women of the local chapter of Mothers Out Front are now turning their attention to school board members, because while staff and teachers are on board, according to Kimmel, there needs to be pressure put on the executive side in order for real change to happen.
“What we like the most about this issue is that it’s a literal billboard for sustainability,” says Kimmel about why her and co-founder Bobby Monacella chose this initiative in particular. “It’s pulling up in front of schools, it’s a talking point for students, teachers, parents and administrators. It becomes a community-wide thing.”