Editor’s note: This story was updated to show that the LBUSD has had other, less-formal student board members in the past.
The Long Beach Unified School District’s first student board member to hold the newly formalized position will be Jordan High School senior Frania Lopez, who was selected from a group of five finalists during last week’s school board meeting.
Lopez emerged from a pool of over 20 applicants. She is the first student to hold a seat on LBUSD’s Board of Education under a newly adopted policy that lets her participate in the discussions and cast ceremonial votes as a representative for the district’s more than 65,000 students.
The LBUSD has had student board members in one form or another stretching back to 1977, but they did not cast votes as Lopez will, and in 2010, the district did away with the program in favor of having s rotating “student representative” who gave a report about their high school at the start of each board meeting, LBUSD spokesperson Chris Efychiou said.
Lopez’s role “is now more formalized and codified by recently adopted board policy,” Efychiou said.
Board president Diana Craighead introduced Lopez during Wednesday’s board meeting, welcoming Lopez into this new position.
Lopez is currently a senior at Jordan High, but she didn’t grow up attending school in Long Beach Unified. She was originally in the Los Angeles Unified School District but transferred to Lindsey Academy about five years ago.
“One of the things that stood out about Frania was that she’s from a different school district, and she mentioned she didn’t feel valued or that her voice was heard,” Craighead explained. “That really resonated with us, and we really wanted to validate that you have value, that your voice is heard, that we know with this opportunity, you will take this and put it to good use. We are so proud of you and so happy that you came forward and applied for this position.”
Lopez spoke about how much more comfortable she’s felt since becoming an LBUSD student.
“Ever since I came here, I’ve felt much more loved and supported than I’ve ever felt in my whole life,” Lopez said from her new seat on the dais. “Now that I’ve come here to LBUSD I’m really happy to say that I felt at home and I’m really glad to be here. Thank you so much.”
Later on in the meeting, Lopez received encouragement from sitting board members, including Juan Benitez, who challenged her to speak up and make her voice heard. He welcomed Lopez’s feedback from a student’s perspective in order to hold the school board accountable in an unprecedented way.
“I want to applaud your courage, and I mean this in the sincerest way because it takes a lot to share what a challenging time you’ve had in your educational experience,” said Benitez. “And I want to encourage you and challenge you—in the best spirit of the word—that you bring that fire to these school board meetings, that you feel comfortable enough that even if you think it’s going to make some of the adults in here uncomfortable or uneasy, you have the power to do that. … Yeah, give us praise when we deserve it, but call us out.”
LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker swore in Lopez as a school board member and later in the meeting made sure to touch on some of her unique qualities that made her the right choice for this position.
She discussed Lopez’s background with the school site council and her experience working with democratic processes, budget items, and other issues related to the school district and the school board.
“She’s in the right place at the right time,” Baker said of Lopez. “And I know when she gets settled in she’s going to have a lot to share, not only about her past story but how she thinks about her story in service to the future of our students. So it is so nice to see you here after a long, rigorous process of becoming a student school board member.”
Going forward, Lopez will be able to attend all board meetings, except for those held in closed session. She will be permitted to ask questions and engage in discussion during open sessions, with access to the same briefing materials received by the rest of the board.
Lopez will also be able to cast preferential votes during meetings, which will be recorded as a formal expression of opinion in the meeting minutes. The preferential vote will not be included in the vote count and thus will not impact the outcome of a vote. She will also be given the opportunity to participate in subcommittees and can make motions to be acted on by the rest of the board.
“The advice that was given to me was kind of like a shock to me,” said Lopez of what she’s been told by the board members and other district leaders. “These amazing people are giving me this life-changing advice. I’m under the best hands I could be in, and I’m really appreciative of everyone here. Thank you for having me.”