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Mom vs. LAUSD, and Both Sides Win

September 13, 1997|KERRY MADDEN-LUNSFORD | Kerry Madden-Lunsford lives in Silver Lake

I am sorry to inform you that your child was not chosen in the random selection process for magnet school placement.

After six years combined of applications for my son and daughter, I know the rejection letter by heart. But now, I also know this: Getting into magnet school can be done.

But unless you're one of those sickening people who wins the lottery the first time around, it takes persistence, ink and sweat. For the rest of us, you apply, you get rejected, you make a call, especially if the computer has left off, say, two years of "waiting list" points. Then you enter the maze of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

It began in 1994, when I applied for my son to get into one of the magnets for his kindergarten year. Since a student accumulates waiting list points by applying every year, I was advised by friends to start applying early. The first year he didn't come close, so he remained at his private Montessori school. The second year, I submitted applications for both children. Again, no luck.

The third year of my trying for a magnet rolled around. Savvy parents said, "If you've applied three years in a row, you're bound to get in, and if you don't, call the district."

Around April, identical rejection letters arrived. As it was only my daughter's second round, I accepted defeat, but as this was my son's third attempt, I called to see if I was doing everything correctly. A few days later, I received a call from the district that informed me "his waiting list points were inadvertently left off, but he's No. 1 on the waiting list, so a kid will drop out over the summer, and he'll be in." True to her word, he was, and he started at Wonderland, the magnet school in Laurel Canyon, a year ago.

This year, the third year came to pass for my daughter, and sure enough, the familiar rejection letter arrived. I studied all three of her letters and noticed that they had given her "sibling points" but her waiting list points, after two years of application, read 0. She also had differing student identification numbers all three years.

I called the magnet office, waited an hour on hold and finally left a message detailing the dilemma. A few weeks later, we received an apology, saying essentially the same thing they did for her brother: She's got 19 points, which is more than enough to qualify, she's at the top of the waiting list, surely a kid will drop out over the summer and she'll be in the program.

So I wasn't too worried until the week before school started. My husband called to see which of the 40 prized spaces had opened. The answer: "No kids dropped out, and we've already accepted the kids who were picked by lottery." I saw my future in flashing marquee lights: another year of tuition.

In a rage, I went to the downtown office to speak to the magnet coordinator. "My husband has worked 10 years in L.A. Unified in South-Central. I taught five in East L.A. for the district before I quit. Couldn't that count for something?"

"What do you do now?" she asked. I explained I was a novelist, which means we survive on one teacher's salary. Then she said it: "This is our mistake, and we're going to rectify it." Someone was actually taking responsibility. She called Wonderland, and they got nervous about the vaunted student-teacher ratio: "We'll get in trouble with Sacramento." She said, "We'll take responsibility. This child has 19 points, more than many of the kids who applied and got in by lottery." Then this dear woman called one of the superintendents, who said after hearing the saga, "Apologize to the parent, and tell her to register her daughter."

I drove home in a state of joy. Two children bused to the same school. No more racing to two schools in two different parts of Los Angeles in a span of 30 minutes to make sure neither child is left waiting. No private school tuition.

To L.A. Unified, I say, drop the multiple identification numbers and don't spill any of those precious waiting points along the way.

To every parent who's interested in the magnet program, apply now and keep those rejection letters. Or who knows, you may be one of the sickening ones who wins the lottery first time around.

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