Fremont Playground

Fremont Elementary School has a large playground — use there after school became an issue.

A playground outside Fremont Elementary School is set to reopen after school in late February as a pilot project.

Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said last week he would bring the pilot to the school board in February, and a Feb. 22 tentative start date has been set. The key, Steinhauser said, is finding adults supervisors.

Fremont Elementary, at 4000 E. Fourth St., between Termino and Roswell avenues, long has been a gathering place for neighborhood families. But it fell victim earlier this year to a push for increased school security districtwide, with playground and campus gates closed and locked after school hours.

That prompted Fremont parents to appear before both the school board and the City Council in October, asking that Fremont be made an exception. But exceptions would not be fair to other district schools, both Steinhauser and LBUSD Board member Jon Meyer said. Meyer represents District 4, which includes Fremont Elementary.

"It's just a shame that we have to do it (lock down campuses) at all," Meyer said. "The safety issue is the primary concern. We can't have anybody getting hurt. We face just so much liability."

Jyoti Nanda, one of the Fremont parents who organized the group fighting for the playground, said they are thrilled with the news of a pilot program.

"We've been organizing since September," Nanda said. "That playground had become sort of our community hub; we've done so many things there.

"It's so exciting that our superintendent is being responsive… What we're most excited about is that this isn't just about our playground. It will impact all schools."

Meyer said he was aware of the proposed pilot program, but did not have details. He refused to claim credit for the move, saying, "I only carried the message. I carried it pretty strongly."

Steinhauser said that while the school board had mandated closed campuses (in April 2018, two months after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting), many schools remained open for after-school programs.

"We have lots of permits for groups to use schools," Steinhauser said. "We have WRAP (Winners Reaching Amazing Potential) programs at all the Title I schools, and Title I schools offer remediation classes after school.

"We're planning to do a pilot at Fremont that would open the playground after school. It would be open to kids from other schools too. We'll have adults, a kids' club supervisor, to help program the time and provide supervision."

Long Beach Unified already partners with multiple agencies, including the city's Parks, Recreation and Marine Department and private nonprofits, to help with the WRAP programs. Those programs are designed to be "a balanced mixture of academic enrichment and assistance and physically and emotionally healthy activities that are fundamental components of youth development," according to the LBUSD website.

Steinhauser said the program would start Feb. 20-22, and run to the first Saturday in June. No details were available about what the program will include.

"Then we'll sit down and evaluate it; cost, usage and the rest," Steinhauser said.

Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose district includes Fremont Elementary, noted the city has no control over school district property or policies. Still, she said, she is pleased with the outcome.

“I am over the moon pleased with the possibility of a pilot program," Price said in an email. "In times like this, we have to be willing to consider creative solutions. The neighborhood playground is such a big part of community culture for many neighborhoods and this one is no exception. I’m grateful that LBUSD leadership is willing to think outside the box. It’s a testament to their commitment to our local families.”

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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