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Battle Lines Form on School Boundary Plan : Parents Angry Over Proposal to Shift Some South Gate High Students to Jordan in Watts

April 28, 1985|ELAINE WOO | Times Staff Writer

At high noon one recent Saturday, about 50 Latino parents were gathered under the shade of a tree in a South Gate park. The weather was hot, and so was the rhetoric.

The parents had come to talk about a Los Angeles Unified School District plan to send graduating eighth-graders living on the west side of South Gate to Jordan High School in Watts, about a mile away. According to district officials, the change would help to relieve severe overcrowding at year-round South Gate High, which has been busing overflow students as far away as Sylmar and Monroe high schools in the north end of the San Fernando Valley.

Unacceptable, Parents Say

But many South Gate parents say the Jordan proposal is unacceptable because they say Jordan doesn't measure up to South Gate High academically and the surrounding area is unsafe. "It's not fair," said Thise Camarillo, who came to the park because she has a child at South Gate Junior High. "We live in South Gate, so we should go to South Gate schools."

On paper, the proposal looks simple. It involves moving Jordan's attendance line three-quarters of a mile east from Alameda Street, the traditional dividing line between unincorporated Watts and the city of South Gate, to Long Beach Boulevard. But the plan, which the Board of Education will consider on May 6, has raised a storm of controversy and rekindled racial tensions that surfaced 22 years ago when the battle began over desegregation of Los Angeles schools.

In 1963, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Jordan students that sought to bring racial balance to all-black Jordan and then-mostly white South Gate High. Today South Gate High, with an enrollment of 3,000, is 86% Latino, 2% black and 6% white.

Jordan, with an enrollment of 1,100, still has a majority of black students, but their numbers are declining rapidly as more Latinos move into the area. Black enrollment dropped 10% this fall to 69.5%, while the number of Latino students rose from 19% to 30%. White enrollment is .2% (two students) and Asian .3%. District projections say Jordan may be 50% Latino within five years.

Del Real, a South Gate real estate agent with business dealings on both sides of Alameda, predicts that, in as few as three years, "Watts will be like South Gate" and have a predominantly Latino population. "We're not selling houses to black people; we're selling mostly to Hispanics," he said.

According to the 1980 Census, South Gate, with a population of 67,000, is 59% Hispanic, 2% black and 37% white; Watts, with a population of 34,000, is 83% black and 17% Hispanic. Census figures forecast a gradual increase in the Latino population in Watts, reaching 22% in 1989.

And yet, resistance to the boundary change runs deep among many South Gate residents. In their view, Jordan is on the wrong side of the tracks, literally and figuratively.

"No way are we going to send our kids over there," said Olivia Lopez, whose daughter will graduate from the eighth grade Tuesday. "We're not being prejudiced. But I'm afraid of that area. Send our kids to Gardena or Downey--anyplace but there."

Others say that prejudice is the problem. Jordan parent and longtime Watts resident Alice Harris says that for too long Alameda Street has separated South Gate and Watts like "the Mason-Dixon line" of the Civil War years. "We're supposed to feel lower because we're over here and because you're over there. But it don't work that way," she said. "South Gate is only three minutes away. If there is a problem here, you have it over there too."

In the view of most South Gate parents, Jordan has two clear problems: low scores on state achievement tests and the crime rate in and around the campus.

In terms of its performance on state and national tests, Jordan historically has ranked near the bottom of the district's 49 high schools. In the latest California Assessment Program tests given to all high school seniors, Jordan scored 7 to 10 points lower than South Gate across the board. On the Scholastic Aptitude Test, Jordan students last year attained an average score of 589, while South Gate scored 752. Both scores fall below the state average of 897.

In terms of crime, however, statistics indicate that the Jordan campus actually is safer than South Gate.

According to Los Angeles school district records of on-campus incidents reported to school security during the 1983-84 school year, South Gate administrators reported 100 more cases of assault, sex offenses, theft, vandalism, arson, narcotics possession and trespassing at South Gate than Jordan, which had 26. Jordan exceeded South Gate in the number of robberies (8 versus 2) and burglaries (9 to 8).

Overcrowding Blamed

South Gate assistant principal Howard Lappin said his school's high numbers were partly a result of overcrowding. "We have so many more bodies here, compared to Jordan," he said. He also said that South Gate may follow more rigorous reporting standards than other schools.

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