A School in Search of a Home
Westchester Secondary Charter supporters pressure LAUSD to make room at Emerson Adult School
By Gary Walker
Already in its second location after launching just three years ago, Westchester Secondary Charter School has had a nomadic existence.
The school for grades 6 to 11 is seeking a permanent home in Westchester, but LAUSD officials have only offered it classroom space far from the Westside each of the past two years.
While Westchester Secondary currently occupies part of the First Baptist Church of Westchester campus on La Tijera Boulevard, Principal Janet Landon said the stakes are much higher for the future of the school this time.
“If we don’t get an offer in Westchester, we’ll probably have to close,” Landon said.
State law requires school districts to offer charters unused classrooms at traditional public schools. This year LAUSD offered Westchester Secondary classroom space at Horace Mann Middle School in South Los Angeles, but Landon rejected
“It’s too far for my parents and teachers to go. We’re a very teacher-centered school, and they want to have ownership of their school and they want to be part of this movement,” said Landon, who is also a co-founder of the school.
More than 100 Westchester Secondary students, faculty and supporters held a rally on March 23 outside Westchester-Emerson Adult School to urge LAUSD to offer them classroom space on the Emerson campus.
“We feel like every year we haven’t had any certainty about space. It doesn’t make sense to us that there’s a building here that LAUSD offered to another charter that’s not going to be coming here, and we don’t know why it can’t be offered to us,” Westchester Secondary co-founder Ann Wexler said.
LAUSD officials had debated closing Emerson last year but that plan was scrapped due to pressure from adult students
and lack of an environmental safety study.
LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said the district has not offered space at the adult school to any charter schools this year and referred to a recent court decision on the matter in favor of LAUSD.
Westchester Secondary has sued LAUSD twice for space at existing Westchester schools, both times without success. Last year a judge found that LAUSD wasn’t required to offer the charter school space that isn’t currently intended to serve adolescent students.
Landon and Wexler say they feel a sense of urgency because they would be required to obtain a conditional use permit from the city Planning Department — a tedious and time-consuming process — in order to remain at First Baptist Church of Westchester through 2017.
Landon said she had to mask her uncertainty while watching several students being feted for making the school’s honor roll, knowing the school may soon have to leave the church with no permanent home in sight.
“It’s heartbreaking. We have students who are juniors now who might have to be seniors somewhere else. It was all I could do to keep it together,” she said.
Westchester Secondary junior Simran Chopra, who is from India, says her connection to the school runs deep.
“This was the first school that I came to when I came to America in 2013, and the teachers are so caring. That’s why I’m very attached to this school,” she said.
Seventh-grader Joshua Sims was impressed by the size of the protest.
“I think it’s really cool that everybody came to the rally. I think this would be a good place for our school,” he said.
Wexler said she remains optimistic but is frustrated by what she considers LAUSD‘s inaction on helping the school find a permanent home.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” she said.