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Laguna Beach board asked to reconsider ban on public use of high school track

Senior citizens and runners are calling on the board to reconsider its ban on public use of Laguna Beach High School's track during instructional hours. Officials cite safety concerns.

March 13, 2011|By Joanna Clay, Los Angeles Times

Senior citizens and runners are calling on the Laguna Beach Board of Education to reconsider its ban on public use of a high school track during school hours.

For as long as many residents can remember, Laguna Beach High has opened its track to the public during and after school. But six months ago the board voted to bar non-students from using the grounds during instructional hours, citing safety concerns.

At a board meeting last week, about 10 residents spoke against the closure, citing health and emotional reasons as well as the need for the community to congregate.

"I've relied on that track for 14 years as a part of my training," said runner Leslie Lebon. "I don't quite understand the safety issues."

Other speakers said that the rubber track was good for their joints and that there weren't any other facilities like it in the area.

"I propose to the board that you get the item back on the agenda," Peter Navarro said. "I don't think there was enough community input."

School officials said that the track will continue to remain open during off hours and that districts in Newport Beach, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano do not allow use of their tracks during the school day.

Sherine Smith, superintendent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District, read a statement to the group regarding the Oct. 12 decision.

"The pros and cons of having public access to the track were carefully considered, and, ultimately, consensus was reached that student safety is our first priority," Smith said. "It is important for us to be proactive rather than be placed in the position of being reactive after the fact. The safety of students is our obligation and first priority."

Many questioned the issue of safety, wondering if there had been any incidents to spark the discussion in the fall.

"Our high school is very centrally located in the community," Smith said. "People from all over the country and all over the world come to Laguna to visit. There are many people — besides those that live next to the school — that would have access to campus. We don't want people to have inappropriate confrontations with staff and students."

Ceil Sharman, 71, believes the situation is mostly affecting senior citizens, who she said are not being heard.

"I feel strongly that seniors shouldn't be marginalized," she said. "I was wondering if they were really taking the comments of the seniors seriously."

Sharman has walked the route with seven friends a few times a week for the last five years. When she was given the closure fliers in the fall, she noticed that community groups could apply for access. Her application was denied, she said.

joanna.clay@latimes.com

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