There was a tempered celebration during Monday night’s meeting of the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education, where board members were set to vote on a policy that would wean campuses off fossil fuels.
As has been the case for the last two years, a healthy contingent of kids representing the student-led Long Beach Green Schools Campaign was on hand. They hoped to witness the vote, which would’ve set a host of climate goals including “aggressively transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles and machinery” as quickly as the budget allows.
The result wasn’t the climactic win students hoped for—trustees voted to delay any decision until August—but it was a win nonetheless with school board trustees signaling their support and indicating a desire to strengthen the proposal before next month’s meeting.
That meeting will mark a major milestone in a two-year push by students with the Green Schools Campaign who have consistently attended school board meetings and urged the board to adopt the zero-emissions policy to combat climate change.
Although the board didn’t adopt the plan Monday, outgoing board president Juan Benitez applauded the students’ work, with an eye toward next month’s official vote.
“We have students with us today that exemplify the best of what we hope our students achieve,” said Benitez in his closing remarks. “Your educational experience is not just inside the classroom. You’re all civically engaged, you’ve been here since 2020 holding your elected officials, your systems leaders, accountable for your future. We are going to vote on this very important policy that’s based on your advocacy, your effort and your work.”
During the discussion about the Green Schools policy, Benitez raised a motion directing the LBUSD’s facilities and development team to strengthen the proposal by including specific timelines and dates for reducing emissions and moving toward clean, renewable energy between now and 2045. The motion was seconded by board member Erik Miller, who offered a more detailed explanation of the motion.
“I love the policy and the process that you all have gone through to get where we are today,” said Miller to the assembled students in the audience. “But with any goal, I would not feel comfortable if we didn’t set overarching goals and timelines attached to it. As these young people have expressed time and time again, our goal is not just meeting state requirements but exceeding them, and I think it’s important that we have that language within the policy.”
Other board members offered praise for the students and hinted at their support for the policy ahead of August’s official vote.
“You as students have shown so much determination and grit and persistence,” said board member Diana Craighead. “You’ve wanted us to pay attention to what’s going on with climate change and the environment, and you have wanted us to take action. You have been clear on that vision and mission and you’ve held us to task on that. And it’s because of your determination that we’re here now—or again in August—to vote on this. That can’t be understated and we can’t take that for granted. The lion’s share of the work has really been yours, so thank you for what you’ve done.”
Board member Megan Kerr, who was voted in as the next school board president during Monday’s meeting, added her thoughts with an eye toward the next meeting.
“Thank you to the students, I appreciate that you are here and we will save the celebratory pictures—potentially—until after a vote next month,” Kerr said. “So mark your calendars. But thank you again for continuing to engage with us.”
The Green Schools policy was the main topic of discussion during public comment, as has been the case for many school board meetings over the past two years. A trio of students again offered prepared remarks about the policy, as did their teacher and adviser, Patrick Gillogly, who has been a teacher at Poly High for nearly three decades.
“This whole campaign has been run by, led by, organized by, these kids,” he said. “Very early on when we met first with Ms. Kerr, It was pretty clear to everybody that these aren’t just kids that are waving signs and demanding ‘Save the Earth.’ They are actually well-researched, very practical and very realistic. This whole process has been a great education for all of us. … It’s been one of the great honors of my professional career of more than 28 years in the Long Beach Unified School District to work with these kids.”
Though there was no official vote, Long Beach Green Schools Campaign founder Diana Michaelson was pleased with how the meeting went and is looking forward to a more significant win in August. She started the Green Schools Campaign as a 10th grader back in August of 2020, meaning she could see this initiative go from idea to approved board policy in exactly two years.
“I think what we got today was really what we wanted,” Michaelson said. “We got the push towards stronger language, and although it wasn’t solidified today, it’s something that was pretty much promised to us. It was pretty transparent today. … Delayed gratification, that’s the best way to put it. (The policy) will be stronger in a month, so I think that we’re all pretty satisfied.”
With perhaps just one more month to go before reaching her goal, Michaelson reflected on what she’s learned over the past two years and how it’s shaped her perspective on the world.
“I’ve definitely learned more in these last two years in this building than I have at school,” Michaelson said. “My teachers have been amazing, but I think that this is the most real-world practice I’ve ever gotten. … What I’ve realized is politics doesn’t really have to be a scary word. It can be something meaningful and something that can bring change.”
The next LBUSD Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 17.
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