An otherwise smooth first day of classes for Los Angeles school district students was marred by a protest Tuesday over a controversial boundary change between predominantly Latino South Gate High School and predominantly black Jordan High School.
The boundary change, approved in May by the school board in an attempt to solve overcrowding at South Gate, sent 97 South Gate ninth graders to Jordan in Watts, where more classroom space is available. According to school officials, only one-third of the South Gate students attended Jordan Tuesday, and officials would not speculate on whether the absentees would eventually report to classes.
"We're here to show the Board of Education that we are not going to stand by their decision to change the boundary line," said Maria Morales, a South Gate parent whose son will attend Jordan in three years and who organized the protest of 50 parents at South Gate High. "Jordan is dangerous, and they have low test scores. We're paying taxes in the City of South Gate, and that is where we want our children to be."
Although disappointed at the small numbers of South Gate students who arrived on the Watts campus, principal Odaris Jordan enthusiastically greeted each student and tried to answer their questions about the school.
"We were expecting 98 to 100 students to show up," she said. "Maybe after the first day, when the students talk to their friends, more students will come to Jordan."
Even though first-day emotions were high at Jordan, the principal said the day was smoother than she had anticipated. Other Los Angeles district principals echoed Jordan's characterization of the first day of classes for 579,000 Los Angeles district students.
"I was pleasantly surprised," said Bob Christensen, principal of Loyola Village School in West Los Angeles. "All the kids were at the right corner, they all got on the right buses and the buses arrived on time. This has been one of the better openings of school."
However, there were unexpected incidents. At Wonderland Avenue Elementary in Laurel Canyon, administrators did not expect the arrival of 22 students from overcrowded schools. After giving the students some breakfast, teachers decided what grades the students were in and showed them to their new classrooms.
Kindergarten enrollment, which district officials predicted would be well above last year's near-record high, may be even higher, as schools from Dixie Canyon Elementary in Sherman Oaks to Brooklyn Avenue Elementary on the city's Eastside reported larger than expected registration.
District officials had to give a 10-day extension to first-time students lacking proof of tuberculosis tests, because county health facilities have not been able to meet the demand for the tests. This is the first year the county has mandated that all students new to local school districts have a tuberculosis test.
At the South Gate High demonstration, school board member John Greenwood, whose South Los Angeles district includes South Gate, said the boundary change was necessary and would not be reversed.
"We are overflowing here," he said. "We're building 24 new classrooms at South Gate, but that 24 will just keep us even with the overcrowding."
South Gate High is one of 49 schools operating at capacity that must send overflow students to other campuses. Enrollment at South Gate is projected to be 3,120 this year. Principal Phil Breskin estimated that the school will have to bus 600 students to other campuses with more room.
Most of the bused students will attend San Fernando Valley schools. Jordan, located less than two miles from South Gate High, is the closest campus with extra classroom space.