Christina Amaya, a Maywood mother of three school-age children, has thought a great deal about the plight of the Los Angeles school district, which is rapidly running out of classroom space. She has had to think about it, because her overcrowded neighborhood schools converted to year-round operation several years ago in order to handle an overflow of students.
Under a year-round system, a school can handle additional students by alternating their vacations so that a portion of the student body is always on a break. To Amaya, it has meant having her 10-year-old son in Heliotrope Avenue Elementary School on a different vacation schedule than her two teen-age daughters who attend Bell High School. As a result, planning a vacation in the Amaya family requires skillful juggling, not always successful.
"It is very, very awkward," she said.
Nonetheless, Amaya regards year-round school as a lesser evil when contrasted with the alternatives. For instance, her children could be bused to a distant campus with empty seats, as thousands of Southeast-area children currently are. Or they could be on double sessions, an arrangement Southeast schools tried--unsuccessfully--before opting for the year-round approach.
In that respect, Amaya differs from parents in other parts of the district. The mere mention of a school board proposal favoring year-round school as a districtwide solution to overcrowding has stirred parents' wrath, especially on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley where most schools are not yet jammed. Believing that year-round school is unnecessary and will disrupt family life and learning, they have railed against the proposal at board hearings, called on a state legislator to intervene in the matter and threatened to recall the five board members who support the year-round concept.
Understanding the Need
In South Gate, Huntington Park, Cudahy, Maywood and Bell, however, parents like Amaya understand the need. Therefore, they are focused on a different issue: What kind of year-round system will serve their children best?
To many, the answer is Concept 6, a year-round program that divides the school year into six parts and increases the capacity of a school by 50%. It has been used--with good results, parents say--for five years in the majority of Southeast schools.
But it is uncertain whether that schedule will continue to be used beyond the 1987-88 school year, when special legislation permitting its operation will expire. If the district goes ahead with a year-round plan for the entire district, Concept 6 may be phased out, causing an upheaval that Southeast parents would rather avoid.
Moreover, if the district adopts a year-round program that increases a school's capacity by a smaller margin than Concept 6, it would force more of their children to be bused to other campuses that have seats to spare.
"We don't want that," said Amaya, who heads her elementary school advisory council.
Year-Round for Five Years
Out of necessity, all Southeast schools have been operating yearlong without the traditional summer break for at least five years. Although parents would rather have their children on a September-to-June schedule, they say they have adjusted to and accept the year-round program.
"I like the way it is now," said Ofelia Hernandez, whose two children attend year-round Middleton Street Elementary School in Huntington Park. "I would like the traditional year better. I hope one day we have that again. But I don't think that it is going to be possible."
Many parents, like Amaya, say they prefer year-round school to double or staggered sessions, another alternative the Los Angeles school board is considering and which is preferred by some opponents of year-round school, such as West San Fernando Valley board member David Armor. Under this approach, the school day is extended and students are split into two or more groups that start and finish school at different times. In the late 1970s, Southeast schools tried double sessions, with the first shift beginning at 7 a.m. and the second session finishing at 5:30 p.m., but soundly rejected them in favor of the year-round system.
"Heliotrope had double sessions," Amaya recalled, "and that was hard for all the parents. Some kids had to go to school in the morning and some in the afternoon. It was bad, especially on rainy days or when it got dark early. No one in the community will accept it again."
Administrators and teachers also disliked it.
"It was horrible," said Howard Lappin, a vice principal at South Gate High School who was an administrator at Bell High School when double sessions were used. "Kids really got shortchanged. Attendance in the early morning and late afternoon dropped off tremendously, and athletics were extremely difficult (to schedule)."