California lawmakers advance bill to cool outdoor areas of schools

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As California grapples with how to deal with heat waves made more intense by climate change, schools across the state may soon have to come up with plans to cool outdoor play areas by planting more trees and replacing surfaces like asphalt that suffocate in hot weather.

The state Senate passed the legislation that would require public and charter schools and districts to strategize on how to introduce more shade on campus, plant gardens and replace surfaces that hold back plenty of heat from alternatives such as grass and wood chips. They have a deadline of 2027 to start implementing their plans.

“We needed this a long time ago,” said State Senator Caroline Menjivar, a Democrat representing the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. “We are catching up on the decades behind that we are currently in.”

Only a handful of state senators voted against the bill. It would still require the approval of the National Assembly.

The bill is a starting point that will prepare schools for any tougher future legislation that may dictate how they must mitigate the heat, Menjivar said.

It’s one of the many ways California could try to combat the intensely hot and dry conditions that have plagued the state in recent years. Last year, a brutal heat wave left the state debating how to avoid power outages as people increased air conditions as temperatures hit record highs in several cities, including the record Sacramento absolute of 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius).

Children are at greater risk than adults of suffering from heat-related illnesses which can cause nausea, muscle cramps, fatigue and fainting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some groups agree with the broader goal of mitigating heat in schools, but say the bill still misses the mark. Ian Padilla of the California Coalition for Adequate School Housing, which advocates state bonds to help update school facilities, said implementing the legislation would cost too much and overlap with some existing standards set by the Condition for planting shade trees outside buildings.

Legislation could cost the state “in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” or at least $10,000 per school in providing grants to schools to implement their plans, the Senate Appropriations Committee has estimated. .

Another flaw in the bill is the inclusion of wood chips as a possible alternative to things like rubber, Padilla said. Schools have in recent years abandoned wood shavings because they could injure students by falling, he said.

Christina Hildebrand, president of A Voice for Choice Advocacy, a health nonprofit sponsoring the bill, said the legislation was needed to ensure more trees are planted in low-income areas where they don’t. are not already abundant.

It’s critical that schools “that don’t necessarily have the resources” or “the community support to do this, get it,” Hildebrand said.

Courtney Tompkins, who lived in the southern California town of Laguna Niguel before moving to Massachusetts, said her son, who has autism and was completely non-verbal at the time, was left asleep outside for more than an hour on a hot day at school in 2016. Tompkins found out about the incident at the end of the school day from a teacher, she said.

She said she filed a negligence complaint with the state over the incident, which resulted in a settlement in which her son was placed in a different school. Tompkins said she couldn’t name the school district because she signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement.

Othman Ramadan, a teacher at Animo Legacy Charter Middle School, a mostly Latino school in Los Angeles, said it was so hot at one point last year that they had to temporarily stop students from playing football outside. ‘outside.

Ramadan worked at another school with poor air conditioning where students in hot weather had to use ice packs to cool off after suffering from heat exhaustion, he said. Planting more trees around schools can have a far-reaching effect, Ramadan said.

“It would make a huge difference in terms of the mental health and the physical health of our students,” Ramadan said. “If more basic needs are met, then some of the higher things in the pyramid can also be achieved.”

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Sophie Austin is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna

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