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Anger Reaches Boiling Point in Crowded, Hot Schools : Education: Teachers and students are demanding that the district cut class sizes and provide air-conditioning at year-round campuses.

August 30, 1992|HOWARD BLUME and SOMINI SENGUPTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LYNWOOD — Students and teachers in Lynwood's year-round schools are hot, crowded, frustrated and rebellious.

Their summer of discontent has been a litany of classes packed with as many as 80 students, teachers fearful for their jobs, and students subjected to shortages of instructors and supplies.

All of this against a backdrop of a 2 1/2-week August heat wave.

More than 150 Lynwood High School students lost their patience last week.

They marched on school district offices Wednesday morning and demanded an end to overheated, overcrowded classes. Teachers descended on at least two school board meetings this summer to complain about working conditions and allegedly mishandled job assignments.

Officials of the Lynwood Unified School District acknowledged the problems and insisted that they are trying to solve them. They blamed many of the difficulties on a state budget crisis that prompted the district to cut $5.2 million from a $49.1-million budget for 1992-93.

Staff cuts took effect July 1, just as the mercury began to rise--rekindling simmering unhappiness over the school district's switch to a year-round schedule in 1991.

Students and parents accused Lynwood Unified of breaking promises to provide air-conditioned, uncrowded campuses in exchange for the controversial schedule change.

"We students of Lynwood High School do hereby declare that we are being deprived of an adequate education," reads a petition signed by about 300 students. "Classes are overcrowded and students are not learning. Also, air-conditioning has not been installed in the majority of classrooms in violation of the agreement on year-round schools."

Ninth-grader Adriana Morales said classroom conditions have almost halted the learning process since July 1. She said 86 students attended her French class for three weeks and 70 were in her algebra class for more than a month. Her history class still has 43 students and only one of her six classes is air-conditioned. She also said that since July 1, she has had seven science teachers.

"I'm supposed to have all honors classes and I only have first period honors," she added.

Other students told similar stories.

"I want to go to college next year," said 17-year-old Veronica Garcia. "If I don't get in, the school district should get part of the blame."

Lynwood Principal Mickey Cureton said staff cuts that took effect July 1 caused the overcrowding. He added that the worst of the overcrowding was eliminated by Aug. 1.

The current average class size is about 35 students, he said. But several classes may still have more than 40 students, a grim consequence of the state budget crisis.

School board President Joe T. Battle acknowledged staffing problems at Wednesday's board meeting. "We're all going to have to work to correct it," he said.

Battle also said the state budget crisis caused most of the district's problems, including delays in getting air conditioning.

State records, however, suggest that the district did not always submit necessary documents in a timely manner, said Lori Morgan, who processes school district requests for state construction funds.

The district submitted its original application for air-conditioning funds in late December, 1990, about six months before the year-round schedule began. Lynwood Unified submitted an architect's agreement for the air-conditioning project in September, 1991, two months after year-round schooling began. Later that month, the state released funds to plan the project, according to state officials.

It then took more than eight months for the district to submit preliminary construction plans for two schools, Morgan said. The state has yet to receive preliminary plans for three other schools, she added.

Just last week, the school board authorized architects to revise the application because the district's original plans did not include all the rooms that needed to be air-conditioned.

Some district schools are already air-conditioned. Officials said the rest have air conditioning in at least half the rooms.

Students and teachers said the district's figures are exaggerated and don't account for rooms with non-working air conditioners.

Supt. Audrey Clarke said she fully expects all year-round classrooms to be air-conditioned by next summer.

In the meantime, teachers and students have struggled through the heat.

One elementary teacher squeezed her fourth- and fifth-graders into the tiny chairs of an unused kindergarten classroom for two months to take advantage of air conditioning. Other teachers combined classes in air-conditioned rooms and watched movies during the most oppressive days.

Another teacher complained that the air conditioning in her windowless room worked only from 8 to 10 a.m. Her students sweltered the rest of the day. In another room, a broken air conditioner reportedly was not fixed for two summer months.

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