Column: Long Beach school locking playground for student safety, but at what cost?

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After I was a child, I used to stroll to my neighborhood elementary college or junior excessive on weekends to run round, play ball and hang around with buddies.

However it’s not almost as straightforward for in the present day’s youngsters to do the identical. Fences, padlocks and legal responsibility fears are the norm. When my daughter was an L.A. Unified scholar, it used to drive me a little bit loopy that her elementary college playground sat so shut and but completely out of attain on weekends, a senselessly wasted neighborhood asset.

In Lengthy Seaside, a handful of elementary faculties have managed to carry on to the custom of open campuses. However within the wake of mass shootings and all of the fears they stoked, that’s coming to an finish, as my colleague Sonali Kohli reported final week.

Playground protest

Mother and father and youngsters rally in opposition to the fence at Fremont Elementary Faculty.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Instances)

At Fremont Elementary Faculty in Lengthy Seaside, mother and father received phrase Sept. 25 that “as part of our district’s commitment to safety … our school will transition into a closed campus that uses an electric visitor screening system.”

We will all agree that the security of our kids is paramount. However can we actually make them safer by turning faculties into fortresses, or are we deluding ourselves?

Throughout the road from the college on Monday afternoon, at Viento y Agua Espresso Home, I met with Fremont mother and father who mentioned they’re nonetheless hoping a deal will be labored out to maintain the playground open weeknights and weekends.

What’s at stake, as they see it, isn’t simply a few acres of asphalt with basketball courts, monkey bars and different leisure gear. Cordon it off and also you lose a valued patch of shared open area the place youngsters really feel secure and free, the place mother and father meet and kibitz, and the place a way of neighborhood is extra than simply an thought.

“It’s incredible how much this brings us together,” mentioned guardian Krista Richardson. “I can tell you a dozen stories of people I’ve met there. I’m on the PTA board because of people I’ve met.”

“All our kids learned how to ride their bikes there,” mentioned guardian Jennifer Perez.

Dad or mum Jyoti Nanda, a Golden Gate College regulation professor with a give attention to juvenile justice, argued together with the opposite mother and father that having a spot the place everybody feels welcomed, valued and acknowledged makes for a safer atmosphere. Locking individuals out, they mentioned, can do the other.

Below the plan, Fremont’s fencing will probably be prolonged to encircle the whole college. However Nanda mentioned there’s loads of analysis suggesting unfavorable psychological impacts on college students who’re saved behind locked doorways to guard them from perceived threats.

As we talked within the espresso store, I watched college students run round on the playground throughout the road. Wanting banning recess and PE, I don’t understand how we will preserve them or every other college students secure on college grounds, throughout or after college.

And if we’re going to lock college playgrounds on weekends, the place can we draw the road? Ought to we construct partitions round each rec middle and park?

Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for Lengthy Seaside Unified, mentioned most faculties within the district had been fenced and safe for years. After the 2018 Parkland, Fla., highschool capturing that killed 17 individuals, some mother and father referred to as for larger safety and even armed guards at elementary faculties, Eftychiou mentioned.

The district has since upgraded safety at 26 faculties, he mentioned, with a half dozen nonetheless in line for upgrades. However the college board, in accordance with Eftychiou, is taking significantly the arguments of oldsters who’d prefer to preserve issues as they’re at Fremont.

To be honest, Lengthy Seaside college officers are motivated by extra than simply the concern of a capturing. They are saying they’ve needed to take care of vandalism and graffiti, they usually fear about being slapped with a lawsuit if somebody will get harm on college property.

Fremont’s principal, Cassandra Richards, instructed me homeless individuals generally sleep on campus, and janitors typically should take away trash from the grounds earlier than college begins.

After which there are even larger issues.

“In this crazy world we live in, someone could always come in on a weekend and plant a bomb,” mentioned Jon Meyer, a member of the Lengthy Seaside Unified Faculty District Board of Schooling.

That’s true, however somebody might plant a bomb nearly wherever at any time. As for vandals and taggers, it’s not as if a fence can cease them. And in a rustic that has extra weapons than individuals, however whose elected officers refuse to enact commonsense gun management legal guidelines even after youngsters are massacred, a fence right here and there doesn’t quantity to a lot.

“It’s kind of a double-sided sword,” Meyer mentioned. “To try to open up our playgrounds, yet keep our school yards safe, is a real dilemma.”

Meyer mentioned that when he was a lad in Lengthy Seaside, his elementary, junior excessive and highschool campuses had been all open and out there to him on weekends. He mentioned he and his colleagues on the board, together with district employees, need to discover attainable compromises in response to oldsters who need Fremont to stay open and out there.

“I think the bottom line is — where do our children play?” Meyer mentioned. “We’ve pre-empted the little open space there was with homes and businesses, and parents don’t want their kids playing in the street. So where do they play after hours? If not on our school grounds, then where?”

Meyer mentioned he’d like to check a map of town’s parks and faculties and decide whether or not some campuses, these farthest from park services, is perhaps saved open.

At Fremont, some mother and father had been underneath the impression they’d have the ability to apply for permits and proceed utilizing the playground on weekends. However then they had been disenchanted to be taught they could possibly be charged as a lot as $60 an hour, and a 30-day discover can be required together with legal responsibility insurance coverage.

On condition that preserving a way of neighborhood is one goal, possibly one reply is for fogeys and native retailers or different sponsors to type collectives that assume legal responsibility — or share it with the district — and manage supervision of playgrounds on weekends.

Lengthy Seaside Unified has a reasonably good repute, mother and father say, so why can’t it design a workable compromise that may be copied elsewhere?

As it’s, public faculties are ridiculously under-utilized. Up and down the state, a whole lot of libraries, gymnasiums, playgrounds and auditoriums — all of them financed by taxpayers — are off-limits many afternoons, evenings and weekends. We must be making larger use of them.

That’s how I really feel about it, however I’ll give the final phrases to Fremont college students, a few of whom have marched, waved indicators and signed petitions to maintain their playground open.

“It’s like, the nearest place where we can play,” mentioned Jude, a first-grader who couldn’t comprehend why adults would select to lock up his favourite playground.

“It feels like another home,” mentioned fifth-grader Lucia.

Her buddy Liv, additionally within the fifth grade, mentioned she’s been taking part in at Fremont since earlier than she was a scholar.

“This is the playground I’ve known since my sister went to kindergarten,” Liv mentioned. “I just don’t want them to block if off because so many people love to go there.”

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