Community fears over glasswalled classrooms reached a fever pitch at last week’s school board meeting with a host of public speakers opposing large glass walls for newly constructed classrooms but officials said their fear may be premature as no design designs have been finalized and public input will be a factor in the decision making process.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education reviewed campus improvement plans for Roosevelt Elementary School and Lincoln Middle School last week and approved contracts to officially begin the design process for the first phase of construction and renovation projects at each of these sites.
Specific design elements of the projects will be discussed and determined in coming months with opportunities for community input, however initial conceptual renderings of the future campuses presented at the April 20 Board meeting have already drawn significant feedback, centered primarily on one element: large amounts of glass.
In an era of frequent school shootings, multiple teachers took the mic at the meeting to say they would not feel safe teaching in spaces with large windows and glass walls, as presented in renderings.
“We are here tonight to ask you to reconsider campus improvement plans that involve large expanses of glass,” said SMMUSD teacher Tashi Buccioni. “I hate that I have to bring this up, but the reality right now is that in 2023 there have already been 14 school shootings that have resulted in injury or death.”
Shelly Ehrke, a teacher at Lincoln Middle School said that she and over 200 other educators in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District had signed a petition “detailing our concerns around glass walls.”
Fellow Lincoln teacher Victoria Chang said she surveyed her eighth graders to get their perspective on the matter.
“The survey question I asked was: how safe would you feel if our current classroom wall facing the track and field was replaced by clear glass, on a scale from one to five – one being not safe and five being very safe,” she told the board. “133 students responded, and close to two thirds of the students said they would not feel safe, that’s 82 out of 133 students, 61% of our eighth grade respondents saying that they would rate this a one or two on their safety levels.”
SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton said that he understands the concerns surrounding safety and emphasized that the renderings presented at the meeting were meant to show the proposed layout of the campus buildings and that details such as material and design will still be open to discussion and debate.
He said the reason the renderings featured these details was to allow viewers to better visualize and understand the overall concept.
“What we find is when we just put big blocks in people have, sometimes, difficulty reading and understanding those plans,” he said. “So we provide renderings, potential renderings, of buildings, in many ways to get the very kind of comments and responses that we got.”
Board members said they appreciated the teachers’ concerns and intend to take them into account going forward with the plans.
“We have heard those comments and I share with them those concerns…” Board Vice President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said. “I work at Santa Monica College, we had an active shooter, we lost our friends on that campus that day so we know… I get it, so I understand completely…I just wanted to say that it’s not lost on me and I would be one to give direction that this is a top concern.”
However, he and Upton both said it is also important for the new buildings to facilitate learning and that part of this is the inclusion of features such as natural light, views of nature and flexible indoor-outdoor spaces.
“This is an ongoing conversation that we’ve been having with teachers and one of the questions for the district is how to appropriately balance achieving our educational goals while we are maintaining safety for our students and our teachers…” Upton said. “In all of the buildings that we are building, we are putting in substantial safety measures, and everything is being considered for safety – the question as to how much glass, how much visibility and how the building functions are all parts of things that we have to discuss substantially more.”
Board Member Laurie Lieberman noted that it is necessary to approve moving forward with the design process for those conversations to be possible and that the specifics of the campus plans are not yet solidified.
“We all need to be clear that we are approving something conceptual…and some of that will stay the same and some of it has the potential to evolve.” Laurie Lieberman said.
The board voted to approve contracts with dsk Architects and A4E to begin the design process for the first phase of each project at Roosevelt and Lincoln respectively. For Roosevelt this includes new early education buildings and a new library and for Lincoln entails renovating Building 500 on that campus.
Each of the projects consists of multiple phases that are expected to be carried out over the next 15 plus years.