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Continuation School Proposal Puts Ideals, Reality in Conflict

April 04, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

In principle, both sides agree that the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District should provide a continuation school for teen-agers who, for whatever reasons, can't make it on a regular campus.

After all, the affluent Peninsula takes pride in its school system and certainly wants to provide the very best education for all its children, no matter what their needs.

But what if the district proposes to locate its continuation high school in your neighborhood?

That's when idealism comes into conflict with reality, say parents and other residents of the Margate Intermediate School area in Palos Verdes Estates, who gathered more than 1,100 signatures on a petition opposing relocation of the continuation facility to their neighborhood school.

Choosing their school, which is scheduled to close in June, would have a "devastating impact on our quality of life, the safety of our children, the safety of our properties and on our real estate values," the Margate residents said.

Property Values

"Property values in the vicinity of Margate have already shown signs of a substantial drop . . . several potential buyers of a home have backed away," the residents said in a prepared statement this week.

A continuation school is for "high school dropouts," they said. "It is believed that many of these students are on drugs. Some do not attend classes and wander off into surrounding areas."

Their concerns are "corroborated and heightened by the recent conviction of a continuation school student in Palos Verdes for murder," the Margate parents said, referring to Kevin Earl Hindmarsh, a 17-year-old student convicted of the May, 1984, slaying of two girls.

A district spokesman countered that Hindmarsh had been enrolled in the continuation school for only two days and that it is "unfair to condemn a whole group" because of one person's crimes. Moreover, he said, a decision on where to relocate the continuation school--now housed on the Rolling Hills High School campus--has not been made.

Possible Alternatives

Other sites are under consideration, including the closed La Cresta Elementary School in Rolling Hills. Officials in that city filed a lawsuit that successfully stalled the district's efforts last fall to locate its continuation school there.

The 11th-hour court ruling, based on a technical error in the district's environmental impact report, forced the district to set up temporary quarters for the school on the campus of Rolling Hills High School.

School officials, like Supt. Jack Price, bridle at claims that continuation students are bad people who would cause harm to the neighborhood.

"The continuation youngsters have been model students," he said. "They only want to go to school and get an education. They are not thugs, they are not gangsters."

Many of the students, he said, choose the continuation school because its self-pacing schedule of studies fits in with their needs to hold down jobs or to take care of responsibilities at home. Some cannot meet the academic standards of a regular school and need special programs to help them develop, he said.

No Worse Problems

Overall, he said, the rate of drug use, arrests and other behavior-related problems is no higher in the continuation school than on regular high school campuses.

Price becomes impatient with the specific complaints of the Margate parents. "They have adopted a certain mind-set and nothing we can do or say will change that," he said. "They are unencumbered with factual knowledge . . . they refuse to visit our continuation school, look at the programs we have and see for themselves that these kids are just like any other."

For their part, Margate parents say they resent the "superior attitude" of school officials.

"They talk down to us, as if we were children incapable of understanding their plans and ideas," said Myrna Ahmed, a leader of what was described as a grass-roots effort to eliminate Margate as a possible site for the continuation school.

An organized group, the Lunada-Margate Homeowners Assn., is pressing a lawsuit aimed at reversing the district's decision to close Margate as an intermediate school.

'Doesn't Make Sense

School officials may "brush aside our concerns," Ahmed said, "but if my child is harmed, I don't want to be told that it was just an isolated incident. It doesn't make sense to say that we are as well off with a continuation school as we were with an intermediate."

Her husband, Nazeer Ahmed, a management-level scientist at Hughes Aircraft, said Margate parents support the rights of continuation students to a good education.

"We are not bigots," he said. "But we also have rights--the right of citizens to a safe neighborhood and to manage their own environment."

He urged the district to postpone its decision for another year "to allow time for tempers to cool. It's like a war zone now. The board should let the community come together, discuss the problem and see if there are not better alternatives."

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