Time Running Out for Boyle Heights High School
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
A group of angry students and parents protested outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters Tuesday to demand that their small school stay open at its current site next year.
Following a one-year reprieve, the Academy of Environmental and Social Policy (ESP) High School in Boyle Heights is once again facing the prospect of being shut down or relocated to another campus.
One of 7 schools originally operated by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) at Roosevelt High School, ESP is now one of three schools following a cost cutting reorganization last year. It is the only school located off-site.
Following numerous meetings and an outpouring of public support for keeping the school intact, it was agreed that ESP could remain at its off-campus site for one more year to give the school time to apply for magnet school status, increase enrollment and reduce operating costs. ESP was told that neither LAUSD nor the Partnership would pay to lease the site after this school year.
In a letter dated Feb. 20, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John E. Deasy informed ESP its time at the East LA Skill Center had run out.
Deasy’s letter outlines three options for the school going forward: move back to Roosevelt’s main campus as a linked learning pathway; move to Lincoln High School and continue as a small school while pursuing magnet school status, or disband. He said the Partnership supports the school moving to Roosevelt and gave the school until yesterday, Feb. 26 to respond.
Both LAUSD and the Partnership declined EGP’s request for comment.
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At a strategy-planning meeting Monday at the school, students and parents told EGP Deasy’s letter caught them by surprise, especially the superintendent’s stated reasons:
“The space does not allow ESP to grow its enrollment to the size needed to be fiscally viable and transportation and recreation/PE facilities are ongoing issues,” Deasy’s letter states.
Parents said LAUSD says the school needs 400 enrolled students to be financially viable and to continue to operate as a separate school. In their “talking points” ESP contends they “can comfortably teach 360-480 students” by dividing two of its large rooms into four.
ESP was opened in 2007 to help alleviate overcrowding at Roosevelt. It currently enrolls about 260 students, many who take AP level classes. Most of the students live in or near Boyle Heights. In 2011, the school’s CTS scores showed the third highest gains in the LAUSD, which advocates for the school point to as a reason to allow the school to continue to operate as a separate small school, and apart from the larger schools like Roosevelt and Lincoln.
In accordance with the earlier agreement, ESP applied to become a magnet school but in July, 2013 their petition was denied for the 2014-2015 school year. The school resubmitted the application earlier this month for the 2015-2016 school year, but given Deasy’s letter, there may not be enough time for it to be processed.
According to ESP, in January of this year Deasy expressed support for growing the small school and there “was even talk of expediting our Magnet application for the coming year.”
“We were offered transportation if we moved to Belmont High School and the idea of expedited Magnet status was shared,” ESP Principal Brendan Schallert told EGP.
The school says all of the options offered by Deasy will “effectively close our successful school.” They say moving to Lincoln High School, while geographically close, raises “serious safety issues” for students who would be “traveling into rival gang territory.”
On Monday, the school responded to Deasy’s letter: “Our success with students at ESP compels us to reject your offer and to risk our personal security for the future of our students and our program,” writes Principal Schallert on behalf of ESP’s staff.
Some of the school’s parents and students think money is the real reason the District wants to shut them down.
“We believe the reason this is happening is because this school is taking money away from Roosevelt,” said 11th grader Kimberly Velazquez.
Parents argue the District unfairly excluded them from discussions about the school’s future. “It’s kind of underhanded,” Dolores Flores, mother of an ESP 11th grader told EGP.
The 50 or so students and parents who protested Tuesday at the LAUSD were hoping to give their petition and letter supporting the school staying open directly to Deasy, but he refused to take them, EGP was told.
The petition was clear, said ESP junior Ana Renteria, explaining they asked LAUSD to allow the school to stay open next year and for the magnet application process to continue.
Parents say they feel very comfortable with the space that houses the school and that its small size allows teachers to give students more attention.
“My son is in AP classes, which at Roosevelt has a very long list to get there,” said junior parent Carol Perrelo. At ESP, “he was accepted from day one,” she told EGP. “It’s a smaller school, the teachers are involved, the parents are involved and this is the best place.”
While the principal and staff support keeping the school open, they said they could not fully participate in the protest because they are LAUSD employees. “I’m an employee of the District, the teachers are employees of the District, but the students have heard about this and they want to do something about it,” said Schallert.
Parents and students say they are disappointed Deasy wants to close a school he “has not even visited.”
“He is not being affected, students and parents are,” said Renteria.
ESP’s letter, resent on Wednesday, states the school is “open to discussions as to the most appropriate way to move forward,” but they cannot do it under such a short deadline “with the threat of the school being disbanded.”
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February 27, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.