Dozens of parents and students gathered outside Fremont Elementary School in Belmont Heights Wednesday morning to protest the loss of access to the school as well as its playground that residents have used as park space for decades.
The school, on Fourth Street between Roswell and Termino avenues, has a fence around the property but multiple shorter fences and one unfenced entry point around the campus. Children and parents alike have used the grounds for decades for after-school activities like basketball, soccer and even learning to ride bikes.
Parents are not opposed to construction of the fence outright but it’s impact on access to the playground.
While parents have been reaching out to the district since the beginning of the year about the prospect of a fence being erected around the campus, they mobilized this week in a peaceful protest against its impact.
Harit Trivedi, a parent who has had two children attend Fremont, said that his kids are on the campus using the playground every weekend. He said that Fremont has served as a gathering point for both kids and parents. He pointed to one of his neighbors, who is now 34 years old, and noted they learned to ride their bike at Fremont when they were a kid.
“This is an essential playground for an area of the city that is park starved,” Trivedi said.
Fremont is located about a half mile from Recreation Park, one of the city’s largest, but parents expressed concerns about the traffic that their kids would have to combat to get there, and the crime that has occurred at the park in the past. The school, they said, provided a visible, safe place for their kids to play at that was close to home.
And, ironically, it provides more not-green space where kids could learn to ride bikes, play board games or practice their jump shots.
Alec Colchico said his son and two of his friends, all of whom are currently on the Wilson High School boys basketball team, used Fremont’s courts to hone their skills.
“It all started here on this court,” Colchico said, adding that his son still uses the courts to practice his shots between organized practices with his high school team.
The crowd of parents and students that gathered in front of Fremont during the busy morning drop-off hour numbered about 50. They marched around the school chanting slogans like “Keep Fremont Free” and “Don’t Fence Us Off.”
Skyla Tremblay, a former Fremont student who is now in sixth grade said the school still serves as a place for her and her friends to gather on the weekends or during the summer when there’s little to do.
“It’s super not cool,” Tremblay said. “They’re taking away a place from kids that don’t have other places to go.”
The decision to fence off Fremont and other schools in the city that lacked fencing was made in April 2018 by the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education. Chris Eftychiou said that the decision came in response to the number of school shootings and other acts of violence that have rocked the nation in recent years.
“Everyone knows of the spectacular acts of violence that have occurred at schools across the country,” Eftychiou said. “Many of our schools have been enclosed for a very long time and the district will continue to take prudent measures to protect our students.”
He said that the 2018 vote came as the result of public outreach that included some parents demanding that fences be installed around their children’s schools. To date, 26 schools have had extra security measures like more fencing installed since the 2018 vote to allocate more resources to fortify Long Beach schools Just six schools, including Fremont, remain to be finished.
Eftychiou said that despite the outcry from parents the district is not obligated to continue unfettered access to one of its campuses at all hours of the day.
While some parents acknowledged the need for safety, they didn’t necessarily agree with the decision to fence off the school entirely. There were concerns about the aesthetic effect of having a cage built around the school and the message it might send to children who do use it as a recreation space; “Stay inside and play video games.”
As the gating is completed around Fremont some parents are holding out hope that a compromise of sorts can be reached with the district that would balance the district’s desire to protect its students and the neighborhood’s wish to continue using the space.
“It’s not about gating us in, it’s about access on the weekends,” said Maria Lebel, a 50-year resident and former student at Fremont whose son now attends the school. “My son feels like part of his childhood is being taken away.”
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