The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education’s decision to convert Westchester High School to a “full magnet” discriminates against both parents and students. As with public school choice, the district failed to properly inform or engage Black parents in the process leading to that decision. Today’s column outlines the opposing view, arguing that that decision be rescinded.
The Los Angeles School Board decision raises serious concerns, particularly in regard to the process and motive. Board member Jolie Flores Aguilar abstained, citing potential “civil rights violations.” Tamar Galatzan voted against the conversion, citing lack of funding. Marguerite LaMotte was absent. Steve Zimmer falsely stated that there was widespread community support for conversion to a full magnet; in fact, many stakeholders were completely blindsided by the proposal. The process was not inclusive of all stakeholders nor representative of student demographics.
Much of the excluded stakeholder base has been concerned and involved with Westchester over the past decade. Also, meetings on the full magnet also took place at a time that prohibited working parents from attending and voicing their input. Further, those meetings did not include many stakeholders representative of the student population, which is primarily African American, from Windsor Hills and Baldwin Hills communities.
Board Member Zimmer’s claim that converting to a full magnet will increase enrollment lacks credibility. Westchester is already a magnet and general enrollment continues to decline. It has the capacity to house 3,000 students but less that 1400 are enrolled. Logic suggests that being a magnet school, whether full or traditional, does not, ipso facto, increase enrollment. Using conversion to a full magnet as justification for increasing enrollment is a misapplication of a magnet program’s purpose.
Westchester maintains the highest percentage of African American students of any traditional district school. Current enrollment is 75% African American, 14% Latino, and 10% white with a history of mutual racial and culture respect. The 30/70 mandate of a magnet program (30% white, 70% non-white) overlooks the value of a historic, cultural characteristic of a student population unique in LAUSD and critical for African American students’ success; statistics show that African American students perform higher when they are the majority. Creating and maintaining an environment reflective of the students’ cultural identity while embracing the historical diversity at Westchester should be applauded not discontinued. Converting Westchester to a full magnet will cause the eventual displacement and decreasing percentage of African American students, thereby eliminating the most predominantly African American school in the district.
Magnet and other integration programs were established by court order to address the harms of racial isolation but none of the criteria are applicable as a result of “racial isolation” at Westchester. Magnet programs in essence, are busing programs to integrate schools. Therefore, conversion to a full magnet for the stated reason of increasing enrollment is clearly contrary to a magnet’s core purpose. The broader stakeholder community wishes to maintain Westchester as a community school whose first priority is the students in its service area that includes Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Windsor Hills and View Park.
Of further concern are budget cuts that have already targeted elimination of magnet coordinators and cuts to magnet transportation. Magnet programs generally require more, not less funding, which makes conversion to a full magnet illogical and impractical.
Many education organizations and groups are concerned about the board’s decision and urge interested others to immediately call upon the school board-members Steve Zimmer and Marguerite LaMotte in particular- to rescind its decision because of misrepresentation and lack of inclusion. All stakeholders must be re-engaged in a transparent, inclusive process for determining what is best for Westchester High School.
Kelly Kane is president and co-founding member of the Westchester Playa Educational Foundation. The following are excerpts from his response to the district’s full magnet proposal:
“The broader community of stakeholders of Westchester High School was not presented with the details of this proposal, nor the ensuing consequences resulting from the potential acceptance of this proposal until the 11th hour. Support for any detailed plan must first go through the appropriate channels, beginning with the on-campus Governance Council as dictated by the agreement with LAUSD. With very quick notice, the Governance Council met and, as a vote of confidence for the current administrator, agreed to the “concept of transformation,” but not to the specifics of this proposal.
Therefore, the counter-proposal is to allow this proposal and all specific details to be presented to stakeholders at a public forum of a combined Governance Council and Neighborhood Council meeting to vet and eventually vote on a clearly defined transformation plan for Westchester High School.”
Westchester parents and concerned others are urged to call upon Superintendent, Dr. John Deasy, to recommend, and the board of education to immediately rescind, the decision to convert Westchester High to a full magnet. It is imperative that the full spectrum of stakeholders be informed and fully engaged at every stage of the process to determine the future of Westchester High School.
For more information and updates, please contact Rev. Eric Lee at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone (323) 903-5860.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at email@example.com.