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Campus, Closed by Judge's Decree, Will Reopen : Once Deemed Too Segregated, Noisy, Lennox High to Be Elementary School

June 13, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

LENNOX — A Latino high school, phased out of existence in 1984 after a federal judge condemned it as illegally segregated and afflicted too much with jet noise, will rise again--this time as an elementary school.

Giant jetliners will still shriek overhead on their way to landings at nearby Los Angeles International Airport when the new school opens on the former Lennox High School campus in about a year.

And the new school will have a high percentage of minority youngsters--97% compared to 87% when nearly 1,300 high school students crowded the 32-acre campus.

But the noise pollution and racial segregation that doomed 27-year-old Lennox High to closure apparently will not hinder the Lennox elementary district's operation of a school for younger minority pupils at the same site.

Barred as High School

In approving a 1982 agreement to close Lennox High and disperse its students to other campuses in the Centinela Valley Union High School District, U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. decreed that the campus could never again be used as a comprehensive high school.

Inevitably, any new high school would be segregated, the judge said, because of the high percentage of Latino youths, mostly from immigrant families, in the Lennox community.

But nothing was said about the possible use of Lennox High as a racially isolated elementary school, and the groups that fought for desegregation of the high school students have not raised similar concerns about the new school.

The Lennox elementary district, which has operated year-round classes for several years in an effort to pack its rapidly growing student population into five schools, acquired the high school campus from Centinela Valley for $8.2 million in a recently concluded deal.

Why is the campus suitable for educating younger minority children when it wasn't good enough for high school students?

All Minority Schools

For starters, there is the matter of jurisdiction. All of the schools in the Lennox elementary district are almost totally minority. Thus, any effort to desegregate one or all of them would require transfers or busing across district lines--a measure rarely considered in the drive to integrate the nation's school population in the 1960s and '70s.

Lennox High, on the other hand, was part of a system that had other schools--Hawthorne and Leuzinger--where whites were still in the majority. They could--and eventually did--absorb the Lennox students and remain racially mixed schools.

Timing appears to be another important element in the public and official acceptance of a new segregated school in place of the one forced out of existence. By 1982, the passion to integrate schools had begun to wane and Lennox became one of the last school systems in Southern California to be desegregated under court orders.

"We're about as segregated as you can get," said one Lennox elementary school official. "But there isn't much interest in the issue any more."

District Needs Money

Money also makes a difference. The financially strapped Centinela Valley district, struggling with steep declines in enrollment at its other campuses and embroiled in a bitter controversy over Lennox High's future, made only sporadic attempts to maintain facilities and programs at its minority school--the only one in the district that had increasing enrollment.

Lennox elementary, on the other hand, is a bustling, flourishing district with a relatively strong budget derived from its increasing enrollment and its status as a minority district, which makes it qualified for a variety of state and federal grants.

Enrollment has grown by nearly a thousand students in the past six years to the current level of about 5,000, providing the district with increasing state aid based on average daily attendance.

Supt. Ken Moffet said state officials viewed the purchase of the Lennox High campus as a good bargain that would meet the space needs of the expanding district without incurring the much higher costs of constructing a new school. In addition to putting up the $8.2 million to buy Lennox High, the state allocated $2 million for renovations.

Thus, the intermediate school rising on the figurative ashes of Lennox High will provide a considerably enhanced educational environment for the new students.

To Be Soundproof

Jet noise will not disturb the sixth, seventh and eighth graders who will move into campus classrooms when the renovations are completed, probably in August of 1986, Moffet said.

Window openings will closed up, soundproofing materials placed in walls and ceilings, rooms refurbished and new equipment added, he said. Students will be able to study in air-conditioned comfort and quiet.

"The acquisition makes sense to us," Moffet said. "We're going to have a lot more room and we'll be able to make a first-class program even better."

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