Hot, angry L.A. parents demand playground shade in heat wave

95 degrees on Wednesday morning made it too hot for children to go outside to play at Lorena Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights. So instead, frustrated parents took their place and stood outside the schoolyard as part of their ongoing demands that LA Unified act faster to protect kids from the heat by creating more climate-friendly campuses.

Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles — a coalition of organizations that includes United Teachers Los Angeles and represents parents and community members — said the teachers’ union Beyond Recovery’s bargaining platform, which includes calls for green space, was presented to the district in May. UTLA is negotiating with the district for its next full contract.

Now, as the region faces the worst heatwave of the year, parents and environmentalists are renewing their plea with a sense of urgency.

“LAUSD has a greening index that tells us this school is a school in greatest need,” said Coalition Executive Director Arelia Valdivia, adding that only 5% of the Lorena campus has green space. “On days like today, the heat makes it worse. on days like today [children] are kept inside because it is too hot, or left outside to deal with the heat.”

Reclaim Our Schools has called for improvements including: reducing sidewalks at 10 additional schools each year by 2040 beyond the district’s existing commitments, 50% green space in all schools, deployment of electrified school buses, and installation of electric vehicle chargers at every school.

A child stands between two adults. The child holds a sign that reads: "LAUSD: Rejection of municipal climate solutions."

Angel Gonzalez, 5, stands to the right of his mother, Carla Gonzalez, as he joins parents and community groups calling for LAUSD to address muggy school conditions.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

School playgrounds are often the hottest areas in a community because large swaths of asphalt and school design make for a hotter environment, experts say. Research has shown that heat and lack of green space can affect children’s attendance and school performance.

Parents have also expressed concern about the lack of cool, potable water in schools during this heatwave. Children have told their parents that the water from campus fountains is too hot or tastes metallic, and some teachers have relied on donations of bottled water to keep students hydrated.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” the district replied. “We value the advocacy and partnership of community organizations, and we encourage our local, state and federal elected officials to prioritize investments in green infrastructure in schools and our communities and develop climate change solutions for California.”

The LAUSD Board of Education has adopted resolutions in support of climate literacy, greening, and other sustainable efforts, noting its greening index and greening projects or funds, such as the $50 million allocated to replace bungalows with outdoor learning spaces , said the district.

In addition, the school bus fleet will be upgraded with 11 new electric buses equipped with Wi-Fi.

“It’s nice that LAUSD is taking some first steps, but we’re in a climate crisis and they’re lagging miserably when it comes to addressing it,” Valdivia said in response to the district’s statement. “They lack a comprehensive plan and have no excuse to completely reject the thoughtful plan we have proposed.”

Valdivia said the school district has long ignored parents’ calls for immediate shade relief, placing the burden of campus greening on parents and schools. Parents said efforts to build their children’s schools are often delayed for years or rejected.

Maura Howe, a member of Reclaim Our Schools, said when her children were younger, parents advocated green space at a Palms school and suggested a playground makeover that included shady structures and trees.

“It took a decade before it was finally done,” she said, far too long for kids to suffer from the heat. “As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

Parents’ advocate Aleigh Lewis of Angelenos for Green Schools said campuses in underserved neighborhoods need the most improvement because they are on community “heat islands” that lack parking space and shade.

“Green schoolyards don’t just mitigate heat and purify the air; They’re also incredible places for learning and creativity,” said Lewis. “Not to mention that they can even be less expensive than asphalt. These are solutions that the District was aware of, but their response continues to be paving and repaving. This is not a solution. That will only make the problem worse.” Hot, angry L.A. parents demand playground shade in heat wave

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