Parents from View Park and Windsor Hills are questioning how the Los Angeles Unified School District is considering who will be eligible to apply for the newly created magnet schools at Westchester High Enriched Magnets, formerly Westchester High School.

Juniors who will be entering their senior year at the high school will not be accepted to the magnet programs for the 2011-12 academic year, a revelation that runs counter to what high ranking LAUSD officials have been telling students and parents for the last month.

LAUSD officials, including Superintendent John Deasy and Board Member Steve Zimmer had previously stated that all current students at Westchester and Orville Wright Middle School would be able to apply to the new magnets when the conversion was greenlighted.

But now the district has changed its policy, a little more than a month after the LAUSD Board of Education approved the conversion of the high school to a school-wide magnet April 12.

“At this time we are not accepting juniors going into 12th grade,” LAUSD Director of Student Integration Services Estelle Luckett confirmed.

The three magnet programs will include sports medicine and health, environmental sciences and natural science engineering programs.

Both View Park and Windsor Hills are included in Westchester school boundaries, and LAUSD officials have stated publicly that those students will be able to apply to the new magnets, which are slated to open in September.

But some parents are now claiming that district officials are already turning some students away, based on where they live and their current classification.

Eric Lee said the Office of Integration, which runs LAUSD’s magnet programs, told his wife that the district would not be accepting any new 11th graders to the magnets either at a May 19 meeting.

“My wife went to a Westchester Magnet meeting and the district stated that they are not accepting any new 11th or 12th grade students,” Lee, whose wife is a Westchester High alumna and whose daughter is a sophomore at the high school, wrote in an email. “We live in the traditional matriculation pattern to Westchester and are planning to enroll our daughter for her junior year.

“Now we’re being told there are no guarantees of her admittance.”

Luckett said initially the district was set to offer only continuing freshman and sophomores the chance to apply, but later relented after parents complained.

“All continuing students will be allowed to enroll in the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets and new 9th- through 11th-graders will be allowed to enroll,” she told The Argonaut. “At the meeting, parents were told only 9th- and 10th-graders, but during the meeting several parents expressed a strong interest in changing the policy to include the 11th-graders.”

Luckett did not offer any reasons why pupils heading to 12th grade would not be admitted.

No student, including those who reside in Westchester or Playa del Rey, is guaranteed a slot in the new schools.

Other View Park and Windsor Hills parents were concerned after hearing rumors that they would no longer be included in the Westchester boundaries and therefore would have to take their chances by applying to the magnets, and believed that they would be reassigned to Crenshaw or Venice high schools.

Zimmer denied that students in the current Westchester school boundary would be rerouted to other schools, a fear expressed in community forums before and after the magnet conversion was passed.

“For many of these students, their home school is Cowan Elementary School so they will be included in the application process,” he said.

Lee said his daughter was one of the students who was informed that she would have to attend her “home” school. “We were told that she would have to go to Crenshaw or Venice,” Lee wrote. “Evidently, even though Westchester has the capacity for 3,000 students, they have only budgeted for 1,400.”

Luckett acknowledged that the three magnets were expected to open with 1,400 students, although the campus is built for 3,000.

Regarding students being rerouted to other schools, LAUSD officials released a statement saying anyone who is attending the five Westchester elementary schools, Orville Wright Middle School, Open Charter Magnet School in Westchester and Central Region #22, an approved K-5 school to be built in Playa Vista, “may enroll in Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets High School provided a Choices application is filled out and submitted by the annual deadline, per Los Angeles Unified School District general counsel.

“Students residing outside of the above schools’ attendance boundaries but within the boundaries of LAUSD who submit a Choices application for Westchester Magnets High School will have an opportunity to attend the school, provided there is still space available,” the district wrote in a letter to parents and students.

Students who do not live in the above area or have not attended one of the schools listed, should enroll in their resident school, LAUSD representatives said.

Many parents of current and former Westchester High students have rallied behind the magnet conversion. Terry Marcellus, a Westchester High alumnus, thinks that the conversion will help the school academically and assist with its declining enrollment.

“The reality is that the school is doomed, and (the magnet conversion) is the best option that we have,” he said at a May 12 town hall meeting.

But recent events have left Lee unsure of how it could affect certain students.

“What if my daughter had been a senior instead of a junior?” he asked. “If Westchester were a community school she would be admitted. Our fears have been confirmed.”

Kelly Kane, a Westchester parent whose children attend Westport Heights Elementary, is also skeptical of how the new magnet schools will work, given the short timetable LAUSD is working with.

“I don’t understand what the real intent was when there was not community input for this plan and the short amount of time that they have to implement it,” she said. “If the intent was to bring more students from outside the area, they’re not going to do it there.”

Enrollment has dropped precipitously at the high school over the last several years, and one of the hopes of creating magnet programs was to attract local students back to the school.

“We have already had several calls about the magnet proposal,” Westchester High Enriched Magnets Principal Robert Canosa-Carr, the architect of the magnet plan, said in an interview before the board approved the conversion. “So there is definite interest in local parents sending their children here for the new magnets.”

Like Kane, Lee said he was also concerned about what he sees as a hurried, head-long dash to change to a school-wide magnet. “I don’t question the district’s commitment to improving the quality of education or the principal for bringing this plan forward,” he said. “But I don’t think that they’ve fully worked out the logistics for this magnet school, and I think they’re rushing into this.

“It just doesn’t seem to be a well-thought-out plan.”

It is unknown if students who live in Westchester and Playa del Rey but have been enrolled in other school districts, as many students are, will have the same access to the new magnets as current students.

The deadline to apply to the three magnets for new students is June 10.

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