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Cracks in the Schools Glacier

June 02, 1993

The troubled Los Angeles Unified School District, has finally embraced some reasonable changes that will offer better opportunities for students. For the first time, for example, parents at seven Sylmar elementary schools will have the right to choose which campus their children attend.

Yes, the LAUSD has magnet schools that draw students from other attendance areas. It's also true that parents have been able to obtain permits to move their children to other schools. But the permit process has been unwieldy and irksome. It was also an example of how the district has been unresponsive to parents and students. The Sylmar effort is a welcome move that might even spur a healthy competition between schools.

Limited forms of public school choice operate in various parts of the nation, often on a first-come, first-served basis. It has long been an option, for instance, in the Irvine Unified School District.

The Sylmar schools, located in the east San Fernando Valley, will decide on how many slots will be open to students outside of their attendance areas. In a related move, students will have the option of staying in their current schools even if their parents move to another part of Sylmar. Children had been required to switch to schools in their new communities when their parents relocated.

A separate Board of Education decision to give LAUSD schools the option of returning to a traditional September-to-June calendar also made eminent good sense. While the Board of Education had the laudable goal of bringing equity to all schools in the district, the year-round calendar simply gave most families only inconvenience and discomfort in common. Year-round schooling meant that Valley students suffered through unbearably hot classrooms during the summer. Parents also complained that the two-month winter recess meant that students often forgot what they had learned earlier in the year.

All but one of the 540 schools given the option of returning to the old school year have now opted to do so.

The LAUSD has clearly been pushed in these directions by pressure from a number of fronts. Even so, some positive responses may yet persuade voices clamoring for its dissolution to give it one more chance.

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