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Changing Schools--Any Way They Can : Education: L.A. parents are going to great lengths, including falsifying records, to get their children into Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Culver City districts.

August 23, 1992|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spurred by the Los Angeles Unified School District's highly publicized problems, growing numbers of Westside parents are exploring legal and illegal ways of enrolling their children in the area's three smaller--and well-regarded--school districts.

Phone lines at the Los Angeles district's permits and transfers office downtown have been jammed all week, and schools in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City, which don't start until next month, report a steady stream of parents seeking admission.

More than 5,000 children received permits to leave Los Angeles schools last year, the first year of the districtwide year-round school calendar, and even more are expected this year. About 350 "outsiders" transferred into Beverly Hills; 846 switched to Santa Monica; about 100 enrolled in Culver City. Most, but not all, live within the L.A. district's boundaries.

"To the degree that there is chaos in Los Angeles, we become an option," said Beverly Hills Unified School District consultant Carol Katzman. Permits to leave Los Angeles city schools more than doubled during the past seven years, from 2,203 in 1985-86 to 4,568 in 1990-91, the latest year for which official numbers are available.

And for every family that gets in with a permit, countless others enroll by simply falsifying their addresses.

The basic rule governing most transfers is simple. Children in kindergarten through eighth grade living inside the Los Angeles Unified School District may transfer to other school districts legitimately on one-year, renewable permits if they are enrolled in child care in the other district, or if a parent is employed there.

The transfer concept, incorporated into the state Education Code in 1987, is a "permissive" law; school districts that allow transfers do so voluntarily. (Permits for children whose parents work for another school district, by contrast, are almost automatic.)

Some parents go to amazing lengths to switch districts.

* One Brentwood mother uses a friend's Santa Monica address and had the friend's utilities transferred into her name so that she could produce the necessary proof of residence.

"If you tell the truth," she recently warned her 8-year-old, "Mommy will have to go to jail."

* A Bel-Air family rented a small apartment in Beverly Hills for their teen-age daughter and maid.

* Still others buy standard lease forms to fake rentals, claim their children live with friends or relatives in the desired district, or simply rent a mailbox in an apartment building with a cooperative owner.

At a time when classrooms in Los Angeles city schools are overcrowded and underfunded, sometimes tinged with gang violence, and filled with large numbers of students not fluent in English, many Westside parents say they have given up on public education, yet cannot afford or get into private schools.

They see a solution in transferring to a district perceived as better, and will go to almost any lengths in the search for a good education for their offspring.

"The city schools have gotten to be so bad," one Palisades mother said in trying to explain why she sought a transfer.

The woman, who asked for anonymity, said she had few qualms about lying and teaching her children to lie.

"You see other people's kids going to these good schools, so you think, 'Well, why not?' The other day I asked a neighbor how come his kids go to Lincoln (in Santa Monica) when he lives here, and he said, 'We lie.' Everybody does. It seems like half my daughter's school lives outside the district, and mostly they're lying."

Santa Monica school officials say they turn their heads to all but the most blatant offenses; Culver City embraces the concept of "choice" and blurred district lines. But Beverly Hills vigorously investigates those suspected of lying and expels their children.

"When we investigate, people get hysterical," said Lillian Raffel, a member of the Beverly Hills School Board. She told how an elementary school vice principal tracked down one suspicious family.

"She knew the student didn't live there (in Beverly Hills), but the parents were upset at being doubted. So she said, 'OK, I want to see the child's room and am coming right over.' The mother agreed, but said, 'I'm in the shower, give me 15 minutes.' The vice principal immediately sped to the address, where a maid who answered the door had never heard of the family.

"About five seconds later, the mother drove up--in her bathrobe. 'You caught us,' she said." The family actually lived in Encino.

Beverly Hills Supt. Sol Levine said that 54 students were expelled last year after investigators discovered they were attending local schools illegally.

And further south, in Torrance, district officials last year uncovered about 300 non-residents attending school without permits.

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