By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer | Daily Breeze
April 5, 2010 -- Faced with the possibility that a strict new Los Angeles school district policy will force her daughter to attend Westchester High next year, Lynda Mitsakos has been shopping for homes in pricey Manhattan Beach.
That's because she wants her child to stay at the beach city's Mira Costa High, a well-regarded campus where she can take Latin and compete on the Division II swim team. Those options are not available at lower-achieving Westchester.
"You can't just pull a kid out of high school. There are all kinds of other things going on. They're on a track," said Mitsakos, who lives in Playa del Rey.
Like thousands of frantic parents across the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, Mitsakos is confronting a new policy that will next year severely limit the number of students given permission to leave LAUSD for other school districts. More than 12,000 students have such permits this year, with about a third of them attending South Bay schools.
Mitsakos has fought back by organizing a Facebook group that has attracted more than 2,500 members opposed to the new policy.
On Tuesday, she expects hundreds of parents to turn out for a downtown Los Angeles meeting where the Board of Education will weigh a resolution to let current high-schoolers remain at their non-LAUSD campuses until graduation.
"I think the high school parents are hopeful that that will go through," Mitsakos said. "Anyone who has an elementary school or middle school kid is pretty panicked."
At issue is a policy that was implemented in February, when the school board quietly gave Superintendent Ramon Cortines the ability to change a long-standing tradition of letting students leave the once- overcrowded LAUSD for virtually any reason.
No longer, said Cortines, as he faced down a $640 million budget gap and enrollment that's fallen more than 17 percent since 2004.
Cortines reported back that he would restrict permits to "senior status" students - rising fifth-, eighth- and 12th-graders - and to children of parents who work within other districts' boundaries.
The move could return four-fifths of transfer students to LAUSD, bringing in $51 million in enrollment-based revenue from the state. That's money that would be lost by school districts currently accepting students from Los Angeles campuses.
As word about the new policy slowly got out, some parents became enraged, particularly because it was too late for them to get their children in magnet and other alternative programs in LAUSD.
Some school districts have vowed to help parents with appeals if LAUSD turns them down. El Segundo High School will host an informational meeting on the issue at 6 p.m. Monday on campus.
Last Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously moved to ask LAUSD to take a phased approach and allow currently permitted students to finish their schooling at outside districts. A letter from the supervisors will be sent to the district this week, a county official said.
Then, on Thursday, the district opened the period to apply for transfer permits a month early. Cortines said every permit application would be analyzed on its own merits.
"If a child is attending a specialized program in another school district that is not offered in the LAUSD, we would consider that request. Each application will be reviewed on an individual basis," wrote district spokeswoman Ellen Morgan in an e-mail.
This week's resolution comes as board members have been subjected to pressure from angry parents. Last month, Harbor Area board member Richard Vladovic stormed out of a public meeting when the board was confronted by a parent who insisted his daughter would not be able to attend top universities if made to enroll at an LAUSD campus.
"To diminish and degrade our district is unconscionable to me," Vladovic said at the meeting. "I will never, never accept that."
His chief of staff, David Kooper, said Friday that Vladovic had not yet decided how to vote on the resolution this week.
Board member Steve Zimmer, who authored the resolution and is co-sponsoring it with Tamar Galatzan, said Friday that he's seen parent reactions "across the board."
"It's everything from parents who are just really concerned about their own children to reactions that feel like they're out of 1970s Boston rather than 2010 in Los Angeles," he said, referring to an ugly desegregation battle in Massachusetts. "I was really appalled about how some parents were willing to talk about other people's children with complete disregard for the class and race implications of what they were saying."
Zimmer, who represents Westchester, said he wasn't lobbying fellow members for support on his resolution because the issue had become "so difficult and emotional."
In addition to the exception for current high-schoolers, the resolution also makes what Zimmer called an "implicit reference" to potential flexibility for students enrolled in specialized programs such as language immersion.
The resolution directs Cortines to "communicate information about the permit appeals process so families with students enrolled in specialized programs in other districts can avoid unnecessary disruption of their child's public education."
"In a very difficult circumstance where there are no good choices and only difficult choices, I had to draw a line between pain and damage," Zimmer said, a longtime teacher at Marshall High in Los Feliz until his election last March. "High school students and students in specialized programs need a way to not be damaged."
In the meantime, Zimmer said he was hoping the district would find a different way to "get off this collision course." He wouldn't specify what actions he said he expected or hoped for before Tuesday.