Three candidates in the race to represent Area 1 for the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education discussed a variety of issues but focused on the achievement gap and special education at a candidates forum Friday.

Nubia Flores, Sharifa Batts and Maria Isabel Lopez are vying for the open seat that is vacant because incumbent Megan Kerr is running in the City Council 5th District race.

At the forum, held at Los Cerritos Elementary School, the candidates discussed how they will support students and outlined into their backgrounds and qualification. About 15 people attended the forum, which was hosted by the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Two major talking points centered on addressing the achievement gap for Black students in Long Beach and increasing inclusivity and support for students with disabilities.

Sharifa Batts, who has lived in Long Beach for 43 years, said she worked with retired LBUSD Board of Education President Felton Williams, as a secretary for the Advanced Placement Collaborative, to increase the number of students of color in AP and honors courses and said it will take similar group efforts to ensure equity and fairness for all students.

“We need to be able to offer resources such as mentors, we need tutors and we need to make sure that these resources are accessible regardless of the income of the family,” said Batts.

Nubia Flores, a parent organizer with Long Beach Forward, said she was part of the Equity Leadership Team that helped write the Board of Education’s equity policy that was adopted in July 2020. For Flores, getting accurate data on where Black students need the most assistance is key to addressing the achievement gap. The district also needs to facilitate further engagement with Black parents, she said.

“We have to find a way to really involve a targeted campaign to invite black parents to come to our schools, into our district spaces and prioritizing them,” she said.

Maria Isabel Lopez, a long-time educator and administrator, said she believes all students can achieve with the right resources and opportunities. To address the achievement gap for Black students, Lopez said she’d hire more Black teachers and use Title I federal funds to support underserved students.

“It is mind-blowing how few African American role models African American students have,” she said.

For Flores, her parental involvement in the LBUSD began when her son was born with disabilities and she became an advocate for him.

According to Flores, there are approximately 11,000 students in the LBUSD with individualized education programs and 504 plans to ensure that children who have disabilities receive proper education and accommodations.

All three candidates agreed that teachers need more adequate training and education on student disabilities so that they can attend to their specific needs. The candidates also agreed that students with learning disabilities that are taking special education and special day classes should be supported enough to one day make it back into the mainstream classroom.

“Special education and SDC classes are services, not supposed to be meant as a placement for a kid to be in that program for their entire educational career,” said Flores.

The primary election to fill board seats in District 1, District 3 and District 5 takes place June 7. If a candidate does not receive over 50% of the votes then, the two candidates with the highest number of votes would move on to the general election on Nov. 8.