Lylah Schmedel was holding her breath last week for a few different reasons.In the hazardous air quality due to the most devastating wildfire in California history, dozens of schools locally closed for student health concerns. Las Positas College and Chabot College both remained open— a decision made under a hazy lack of communication.
Schmedel is the president of student government (LPCSG). One of the student senators, Breanna Hibbard, had started a petition to close the campus and it took off, getting over one thousand signatures in less than 24 hours. Schmedel, shocked by the quick response, promoted it and sent the evidence to three key administrators.
Much to the dismay of many, the petition was seemingly ignored. School continued just like any other Tuesday. This left Schmedel disheartened and discouraged. While many students wondered why this happened, she was already thinking ahead. Her tone quickly changed from wondering why to planning why this won’t happen again.
The petition received more student participation than any other vote or poll that Schmedel could recall. “In a matter of hours she had over 300 (signatures) and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s actually huge.’” To put that in perspective, the last student vote count on the constitution and bylaws of the school only received a total of 300 votes. “I don’t know if you know, but it’s very difficult to get the student body to speak up, so I was like, ‘Okay, clearly I need to step in,’” she said.
Schmedel laid out a detailed timeline to help students understand exactly what happened before Thanksgiving break.
Around 9:30 a.m., Hibbard texted Schmedel, asking potentially how many students it would take to get the Board of Trustee’s attention. Schmedel estimated approximately 300, based on previous student response levels. Hibbard posted the petition online shortly after. It picked up speed quickly. Students shared it on social media, sent it to their friends, gaining it traction.
By noon, Schmedel noticed that it had reached nearly 200 in only two hours. The 300 that she originally said they would need to get the attention of administrators was close at hand in a matter of moments. She asked Hibbard if she has contacted anybody. Hibbard had, at that point, reached out to LPC Interim President Roanna Bennie, LPC Vice President of Student Services William Garcia and district Interim Chancellor Thomas Fallo. None of them had returned her email, so Lylah sent one of her own.
For hours, she and Hibbard had heard nothing. “I just don’t believe no one was able to speak with me,” she bluntly stated.
Later in the afternoon, Hibbard got a response from Vice President Garcia. She met with him and told Schmedel that he had addressed the chancellor’s reasons to keep school open, but she still felt uneasy. So later that evening, Schmedel went to speak with him.
“He kept trying to convince me that it wasn’t a problem, and I was like no, it is a problem. Students feel like this is a problem, which is why I’m here.”
After what was not so fruitful of a meeting, she returned to her office and sent another email to those key administrators. She had learned that Interim President Roanna Bennie was at a conference and was not able to return her emails, so she pressed harder, trying to find a way to get to whoever would be right underneath her.
In her email, she addressed and countered each of the reasons that school should remain open. At this point, the petition had over quadrupled in size. Almost one thousand signatures had been reached.
Again, her efforts were fruitless as she heard nothing back from the office of the chancellor. However, that night, Interim President Bennie responded to her, saying she could be back at 8 a.m. the next day. They scheduled a meeting.
At that meeting, Schmedel felt much more satisfied. “I really appreciated Roanna’s response. I think she took everything into consideration,” she said. She said that she felt heard by Bennie and together they constructed an email template that could excuse students from class if they were being affected by the air quality. Bennie then sent a faculty-wide email letting professors know.
Even though Interim President Bennie’s tone was much different and Schmedel was grateful for her assistance, Schmedel still felt great dissatisfaction at the situation as a whole.
“It’ll be brought up at the next board meeting for sure. How to make sure there’s fair communication.” Schmedel strongly said. “I felt like we kind of got an idea of what the student voice means to some of the people making the big decisions.”
Schmedel’s main concern now is that students who chose to voice their opinions (a hard fought battle for LPCSG) will feel that they can’t, or they won’t, in the future. “Going forward, we will re-evaluate and ensure that this will not happen again,” she said with unwavering eye contact. “Next time there is a petition that gets a thousand signatures, something is going to happen.”