Ensign Intermediate: We need a Modern Approach to Student Safety
NMUSD School Board had it right at Tuesday night's meeting. I agree. It IS all about safety. However, the Board majority are leading with an outdated and simplistic view of safety. Board members made vague references to school shootings, essentially telling us, "school shootings- bad, fencing- good. Trust us." They used this view of safety as a guise for tripling the number of parking spaces (from 37 to 100) and paving over a grassy area--beloved by students and community alike-- that currently holds over 15 mature trees.
It was truly disheartening as a parent of a young child, and a taxpayer, to see the way this issue was handled on Tuesday evening. The Board meeting full-house provided an opportunity to hear 18 distinct public comments from parents, students and neighbors of Ensign Intermediate. Every.Single.Comment was against the District's proposed plan. It was beautiful to see that the community, especially our young students, focused on a modern and nuanced vision of "safety". This is a vision where shade from extreme heat, better air quality from mature trees and natural spaces that provide solace for the inevitable ups-and-downs of teenage life are provided. This is the current design. Yes, parents agreed that the pick-up and drop-off situation is currently in need of repair. Nonetheless, they were also unanimous in their agreement that the District's proposed plan was not the solution. And, of course, as parents, safety is always our paramount concern. For the District to suggest that somehow they are more concerned with safety than parents are is off-putting. In fact, the only parent of young children on the Board (yes, there is only 1 of 7 members), Trustee Barto, voted against the plan. Let that sink in.
From a public health perspective, the arguments against the plan were undeniable. As an asthmatic, I empathized with the teens brilliantly advocating for the air quality afforded to them from these large shade trees located in front of their classrooms. As a parent of a small child, my heart ached for the parents who spoke of the natural tree area as one of the few places where their kids can find mental health support by chatting with friends or journaling under a tree in peace. Natural spaces are increasingly hard to come by on public school campuses. Research has shown that natural spaces help decrease anxiety and provide a calming effect. Why would we even consider removing these on an Intermediate School campus given the current mental health crisis Orange County is facing among our youth?
From a government transparency & accountability perspective, the arguments for the plan were equally weak. As a taxpayer, I fumed that such an expensive, important decision was seemingly rushed-- with even the Board members alluding to the fact that they themselves did not have enough information! Full details have not been availed to the public either, but they did offer as a concession that two additional public meetings would be held (Although they also stated construction must begin this month...). In addition, the increase in parking spaces from 37 to 100 in the year 2020, was odd. Ensign is a school with an exceptionally high bike-to-school rate. Moreover, we are now in an environment where active transportation and lower car usage are the trends. Cities are focusing on increased walkability and bikeability, why is our School District designing for yesteryear? This was a seemingly out of touch decision, to say the least.
I look forward to the two proposed community meetings that the District offered (dates have yet to be set). It is my sincere hope that the District truly listens to the community, students and research to inform their decision.