Parents, climate advocates emphasize equity and inclusivity in 'greening' of LAUSD schools

ByAnabel Munoz and ABC OTV Data Team KABC logo
Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Equity, inclusivity emphasize in 'greening' of LAUSD schools
LAUSD set a goal for all campuses to have at least 30% green space by 2035. The greening index from 2022 shows just 16% of LAUSD schools meet that percentage.

CUDAHY, Calif. (KABC) -- Bertha Terrones says her dream is for her child to have a school with many green spaces. Her child attends Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy.

LAUSD ranks the campus 209th among 671 schools on its greening index. Schools with higher rankings are deemed to have a greater need for green space.

Terrones is part of a group of mothers who attend workshops led by the Latino-focused nonprofit Alliance for a Better Community. The workshops are aimed at engaging and empowering parents to get involved in environmental matters.

"Parents want to be active, but they also have to have the confidence to do that," said Vanessa Aramayo, executive director of Alliance for a Better Community. It is important to meet parents where they are, said Aramayo. "People that are most impacted by issues are the ones that have the best ideas for solutions," she said.

Dr. Michael Méndez, a UCI Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, said LAUSD has done an adequate job of engaging parents and stakeholders in green schools and climate resiliency projects. Still, he and the Alliance for a Better Community are advocating for more inclusive and equitable efforts. "Groups that Alliance for a Better Community works with -- largely non-English speaking non-US born immigrant parents -- are often left out of that community engagement project," said Mendez.

Mendez and the Alliance for a Better Community released a new report titled "Protecting Students From Our Changing Climate: Equitable Strategies for Addressing Green Schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District."

"It will be a launching pad to do additional outreach," said Mendez.

LAUSD set a goal for all campuses to have at least 30% green space by 2035. The greening index from 2022 shows just 16% of LAUSD schools meet that percentage. A spokesperson told Eyewitness News the district is making a substantial investment in projects primarily focused on increasing access to outdoor green spaces at schools and has partnered with various nonprofits awarded grant funding for greening school yards.

"Among the 205 elementary schools identified with a school yard that is less than 10% Green, over 60% of them have projects in the planning stage aimed at significantly expanding green spaces," said the spokesperson.

The school district also said a modernization project is underway at Elizabeth Learning Center, which "will add approximately 70,000 square feet of landscaped areas, including adding approximately 130 new trees to the campus. The substantial greening improvements will more than meet the District's goal of providing 30% of a school site's schoolyard with green/natural spaces. In addition, the project will provide cool coating at the Kindergarten, Elementary, and Secondary play yards. Additionally, shade will be incorporated into the Kindergarten and Elementary play structures."

Mendez said the Alliance for a Better Community hopes to encourage more collaboration on which green projects should be prioritized.

"The existing green school index, for the large part doesn't identify some of the most disadvantaged environmental justice school sites in the district," he said.

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LAUSD's greening index scores are based on the percentage of green space on campus and access to nearby parks. The new report found that although it prioritizes schools and neighborhoods with low green space or parks, it disadvantages some exposed to the most extreme temperatures.

"Playground surfaces can heat up anywhere between over 100 to even as high as 160 degrees," said Mendez.

The Alliance for Better Community proposes an alternative greening index that would take other factors into account. For example, urban heat islands, an effect created by large expanses of asphalt.

They also recommend contextualizing the scores with socioeconomic factors, and a holistic assessment of schools and school neighborhoods. For example, if local infrastructure is inadequate, it's likely the school will mirror that, said Mendez, "And then looking holistically in the entire school district, which are the schools that are most disproportionately impacted in terms of crumbling buildings, the lack of energy efficiency, and the lack of course, green space?"