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Stadium light debate at Carmel High School persists – Monterey Herald

CARMEL — Carmel Unified School District’s regular board meeting became a discussion of equity, safety and understanding Wednesday night as dozens of students, parents, faculty and neighbors sought resolution on a matter that has sparked contention in the campus community for years: stadium lights at Carmel High School.

Though no action was taken on the subject, public comment stretched for nearly an hour-and-a-half as district officials sought to find a middle ground ahead of more firm decisions planned for the issue later this year.

“We have some competing values in our community,” Carmel Unified superintendent Ted Knight said to the crowd. “We have students, teachers and parents who might desire a different school experience than they currently have. We might hear from our community members and neighbors that they have not felt valued in the past, and that they have concerns about our proposed stadium project.”

Carmel Unified has suggested an addition of four, up to 80-foot high lighting poles at Carmel High’s stadium in an effort to illuminate the space. Though this current project has been circling district discussions since May, Wednesday night’s meeting was the first instance where not only neighbors concerned with light pollution and parking, but also students invested in changing Carmel High’s culture made their concerns known.

“For a decade, Carmel High has suffered from a lack of school spirit and strong sense of community due to the fact that we’ve missed out on one of the most fundamental school events — Friday night lights,” said Carmel High senior and Associated Student Body Vice President Addie Crabbe, who described the connectivity seen at neighboring district’s sports events as a foreign feeling.

Crabbe spoke on behalf of the Let There Be Lights campaign, a petition started by Carmel High students over the weekend that has since accrued more than 1,200 signatures as of Thursday morning.

“As a student-athlete myself, the size of student sections at games has significantly decreased over the years,” she continued. “Motivating students to get involved has become a much more difficult process.”

From upperclassmen like Crabbe to freshmen just starting their high school careers, student after student approached the board to express a similar sentiment of missing something they’ve never had.

Yet students’ resolve for stadium lights proved to be far more than a push for school pride, pointing toward the flexibility and opportunities lighting could offer nighttime sports especially after this school year.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 328, or the state’s “late start law,” which pushes back school start times. Going into effect for the 2022-23 school year, the new legislation means classes at Carmel High wouldn’t begin until 8:30 a.m., a full 45 minutes after the first bell has typically rung.

While a welcoming invitation to sleep in, the later start complicates evening practices for fall and winter sports like field hockey and soccer. To girls varsity soccer coach Krystal Winkler, this breaks down into a problem of what’s fair.

“For us, having lights equals inclusion and equity,” she explained. “Soccer is a winter sport. With daylight changing, we currently can only have practice for an hour and 15 minutes. With a 45-minute later start time … and it getting dark at 4:45 p.m., that’s not the same allotted time to practice as our opponents, or even the fall and spring athletes at Carmel High.”

Apart from a disadvantage, Winkler explained that a lack of lighting is also a matter of safety. Without illumination, full practices are only possible if teams bus off campus to other school sites, where fields are not as well kept and sports medicine resources are not as easily accessible.

But safety seems to be a concern on every side of the debate.

Neighbors of the school fear that more evening sports events could attract more visitors to the area when parking is already limited, creating congested roads and heightened traffic. This, on top of light pollution and displacement of local wildlife, are problems neighbors feel Carmel Unified has not appropriately addressed in its draft environmental impact report evaluating the project.

The report, which was completed in August, has been a source of frustration among neighbors for months and was again the focus of complaints Wednesday night.

Knight reassured the community, however, that all potential issues with the draft environmental impact report would be addressed before a final version of the analysis is presented to and approved by the board, which he expects to happen by December. Knight also affirmed that the district has been granted the seal of approval by the International Dark-Sky Association to move forward with the project.

Further, as one final attempt at assuaging neighbors, Knight explained that the district is currently working with Carmel’s public works department to see if anything can be done to address parking and traffic control.

“I believe we are rectifying each and every concern, so that when a proposal comes forward in December, this board can feel confident that … we will have engaged with the community,” he said as public comment drew to close Wednesday. “At the end of this meeting, I think everyone wanted some type of collaborative solution, and I think we’re moving towards that.”

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