PARAMOUNT — Four months ago, students at Leffingwell Christian School left Norwalk and moved to a church in Paramount because the school's lease expired. And last week, the Paramount City Council told them they will have to move again.
The council voted 4-to-1 to deny the junior and senior high school a conditional use permit needed for a private school to operate in a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes.
The permit was denied and the school was ordered to move out because neighbors complained about congestion and the potential for gang and drug problems.
The private, nondenominational school began classes in June at the First Assembly of God Church on Orizaba Avenue and Monroe Street. Residents had no problems when the school was just 50 students during the summer, Mayor Manuel Guillen said.
After classes began in September and enrollment grew to 200, the traffic increased. Residents said they also saw more people in the neighborhood.
Guillen said the city confronted a similar issue a few years ago, when the Emmanuel Reformed Church applied to open a preschool and junior high school in the neighborhood. After discussing the issue with residents, the city allowed only a preschool with a maximum of 76 students.
Officials then told the neighborhood that no more private schools would be allowed.
Now neighbors were faced with a "new school within 150 yards of Emmanuel Reformed," Guillen said.
Neighbors also were apprehensive about the possibility of gang problems and drugs, he said. But school officials said neither was a problem.
Students were unhappy with the council's decision.
Kimberly Reddick, 15, of Norwalk, was upset with the arguments raised against the school. "The decision was very unjust," she said. "We had to move from the area where we were before. We're not a rowdy bunch of students."
Kristal Poore, 15, of Norwalk, was worried about what will happen to her and her friends. "If we leave the school," she asked, "where are we going to go? There are not many people who are going to go to public school. This is our family."
She added that Leffingwell, with tuition of $250 a month, is an inexpensive private school.
School officials were determined to continue their fight. Principal John Clark said of the council's decision: "Looks like we're going to have to close up. We don't have any place to go. We're considering taking legal action."
Ken Dobson, a pastor with the Assembly of God congregation, said his church is looking into getting a rehearing before the City Council. He said there was not enough discussion at the meeting last week. "I am really appalled," he said. "Not by the decision. . . . I was appalled by the lack of information the council was interested in getting and the misinformation they had."
Vice Mayor Allen Parker, who cast the only dissenting vote, said he did not have enough information.
In January, Dobson said he was told by the city Planning Department that a permit would not be needed.
But there was an apparent misunderstanding between the planner and Dobson, Deputy City Manager Patrick West said. The planner thought Dobson intended to expand an existing school.
The City Council reversed an earlier decision by the Planning Commission approving the permit for the school.
A decision on when the school must vacate is expected at the Oct. 16 council meeting.
Council members Guillen, Gerald Mulrooney, Elvira Amaro and Esther Caldwell all voted to deny the permit.