An overflow crowd of parents and students filled a Long Beach Unified School District board meeting Wednesday night to implore the district to design a plan that would allow some district campuses to remain open after school hours.
The push came after a demonstration last month outside the campus of Fremont Elementary School in Belmont Heights where parents and students protested the district’s move to fence off openings on the campuses that allowed people to flow freely on and off the sites.
The meeting was not scheduled to take action on the issue, but the board members discussed potential alternatives that could be implemented as soon as this spring. LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser laid out options that the district could take to open some or all campuses—not including high schools— and their varying costs.
One option would allow community use permits to be obtained to use the campus, but those permits range in price from $360 to $400 per day. The second option would open campuses on the weekends using the same permit model but would split the costs between the district and individual schools. The latter would cost about $1.8 million to open campuses over the course of the school year.
Funding could come from school’s state funding, donations or from individual parent teacher associations. But Steinhauser said that money would have to be taken from some existing part of school’s budgets to fund this kind of program.
“I’m sharing this big number with you because I have to give you the worst case scenario as your superintendent,” Steinhauser said.
A third option could include the district working with the city to share costs on a pilot program, something Steinhauser and some board members signaled they preferred. The board is likely to discuss options again next month with the potential for a pilot program, likely with one school in each of the five LBUSD districts being opened.
However, he noted that no matter how many campuses might open there would still be some restrictions.
“We cannot have bikes on the campus, we cannot have skateboard, for student safety,” Steinhauser said. “We have too many accidents and other issues that come to us.”
Some board members cautioned against giving special treatment to groups of parents who are more outspoken, more involved or affluent as it wouldn’t be equitable to other communities in the city. One of the options for funding could be parent teacher associations or private donations, which Board Member Diana Craighead said could leave some areas of the city behind.
“Whatever we do we have to make sure that we are doing right by all of our schools and all of our students,” Craighead said. “Everything that every parent talked about concerning Fremont or any other school is that parents across the district feel the exact same way about their kid. As parents we want the best for our kids.”
While the campus has already been gated, the parents and students asked for a compromise from the district that would allow Fremont and other schools in the district to remain open during weekends and holidays to allow the surrounding neighborhoods to access them for recreational purposes.
However, it has led to outsized calls for service when compared to other campuses that are closed off. Over the past five years, Fremont has drawn over 200 calls for service including 10 acts of vandalism, one burglary and two attempted burglaries and one report of property damage, according to Steinhauser. Meanwhile, Stevenson Elementary, which has been closed off, only garnered 27 calls for service over that same timeframe.
Still, residents of the neighborhood around Fremont said that the campus had served for decades as a place where children could play, learn how to ride bikes or even play board games after school or even on the weekends.
“We met so many parents in the neighborhood and made so many friends that many playdates were born there [Fremont],” said Peter Matthews, whose 8-year-old daughter goes to Fremont. “This has happened for the last eight years so we’re really begging you to keep it open.”
According to a district spokesperson, the decision to fence off the campus was part of a year-long process that the district had undergone after a contingent of parents had asked the district to take action in early 2018 to shore up security at Long Beach schools after one of the more recent mass shooting incidents in the country.
Fremont was one of the last campuses to be fenced in as part of a process that the district started last April.
While it’s unclear which option might ultimately be implemented, and who will pay for it, there could potentially be a future partnership between the district and the city. Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents the area that includes Fremont, said she’d be supportive of some kind of cost-sharing so long as the city could afford it. She said other schools in her area that have closer proximity to park space should remain closed but that there was a need near Fremont and she would be open to it being part of a pilot program.
“I know that the need is there and Fremont doesn’t have as ready access to open spaces as some of the other schools in my district,” Price said. “Kettering, Mann, those are the elementary school that are in my district that have a lot of access to open space. Fremont borders an increasingly busy business corridor that is becoming more and more popular and it’s just not a place that’s conducive to kids running around and playing on the street.”
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