The influx of Asian students apparently began in 2000, when the permit program came under scrutiny. The program's admissions policy, district lawyers advised the Beverly Hills school board, violated the state law that bars public institutions from considering race in admissions.
Board members moved to do away with the program altogether but backed down in the face of well-organized protests by parents. To avoid possible lawsuits, however, the board decided that a student's race or ethnicity could no longer be considered when awarding permits. Instead, students were chosen based on an application, which included grades, test scores, essays and extracurricular activities.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Diversity at Beverly Hills High: An article in Monday's California section about a diversity program at Beverly Hills High School that aims to enroll minority students from Los Angeles schools misidentified a subject of the story. The woman who was in the first group of students to participate in the program and who helped organize protests to defend it is Wanda Greenehill, not Melinda Weathersby.
Neither school district could provide ethnic or racial breakdowns of the students who attended Beverly Hills High before the changes in the program went into effect. But parents, former students and permit rosters indicate that it was a more diverse program then.
Most of the students who receive the permits today are Asians enrolled in gifted programs at two Los Angeles middle schools, John Burroughs and Palms, L.A. Unified figures show.
"Of course it's Asian students" who receive most of the permits, said Robin Day, assistant principal at Palms. "They are the students who are most driven and have the highest grades.
"Their parents are very on top of" the application process too, Day said. "It's a chance at Beverly Hills, and that's attractive to many people."
Indeed, Beverly Hills High -- with its smaller class sizes, better resources, impressive test scores and higher number of Advance Placement and arts courses -- outshines most traditional Los Angeles Unified high schools.
Had they remained in L.A. Unified, for example, many of the permit students would have been slated to attend Los Angeles High School -- a struggling, 4,300-student campus that is nearly 79% Latino and 8% Asian.
The school has been on a federal government watch list for poor student performance for several years, and more than two-thirds of students last year tested "below basic" or "far below basic" on the state's standardized English and math exams.
"Because all the discussion is on the kids who are failing, there is no equal effort to search for and serve the most talented in the district and provide them with a rigorous education," said Los Angeles school board member David Tokofsky.
Board President Marlene Canter, who largely represents schools on the Westside, agreed. She said L.A. Unified needs to be more responsive to parents who have the option to leave the district. The district should double its number of selective, specialty magnet schools and allow parents a greater say in reforms to their middle and high schools, she said.
"Our public education system on the Westside is going to die if we don't nurture it," she said. "Parents want to know that they will have a program that will be exciting for their kids.... Right now, there is the perception that the grass is greener elsewhere."
Canter added that she was very concerned when she learned about the diversity permit program and questioned whether the district should continue to cooperate with Beverly Hills High.
Proponents of the permits say that scrapping the program would be a loss but that changes are needed.
Melinda Weathersby was in the first group of students in 1969 who received the permits. In 2000, with two of her children enrolled with permits, she led the fight to save the program when the school board tried to cut it.
Now, Weathersby, who is black, believes Beverly Hills High officials need to recruit Latino and black students more aggressively. She also wants the school district to select a few students from each of the participating Los Angeles middle schools in an effort to enroll a more diverse group.
"You have 12 schools, and you can't find one or two students at each who qualify?" she said. "It is called equity."