L.A. Unified to Keep 16 Schools Segregated for
Ruling: The decision by a federal judge was prompted by parents'
opposition to integration.
by Erika Hayasaki and Solomon Moore, L.A. Times, October
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A federal judge is allowing the Los Angeles Unified School
District to preserve 16 special education schools, prompted in
part by protests from parents who want their disabled children
in sheltered environments instead of integrated on regular
The dispute over the 16 schools illustrates the passionate
debate surrounding special education.
Some parents and experts insist that students whose
disabilities include blindness, cerebral palsy, mental
retardation, autism and learning problems will progress and
become socially accepted if they are mixed in with
non-disabled students and given extra help. Such parents were
represented in a 1993 lawsuit, named after a learning-disabled
student, Chanda Smith, which alleged that special education
programs in Los Angeles were a failure.
That suit led to a 1996 federal court order directing the
district to integrate about 35,000 special education students
into mainstream classrooms over the next few years.
Other families worry that their children will be traumatized
in regular classrooms and that the children's needs will be
overlooked on campuses obsessed with academic test scores and
Those parents prevailed in the most recent court proceeding.
The decision will affect nearly 4,800 physically or mentally
handicapped students at the 16 special schools. Under the 1996
court order, the school district would have been required to
enroll non-disabled majorities at those sites.
The agreement to preserve the sites came after mediation
between the school district and advocates of mainstreaming. It
was approved last week by U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew,
who had ordered the original integration plan. Though the 16
schools will stay mainly segregated for the disabled, the rest
of the ambitious integration plan is still in force.
"We're delighted," said Harold Kwalwasser, general counsel for
L.A. Unified. "We always opposed the elimination of special
education schools .... The plan was simply a bad idea. It
would not have resulted in a better education for these
Without the change, those 16 centers would have had to reduce
their enrollments of disabled youngsters to between 7% and 17%
of their total student bodies. The district's 660 regular
campuses still are supposed to increase their special
education populations to a similar range.
Parents who want to keep the more sheltered schools include
Alex Gonzales, mother of a mentally retarded daughter who
attends Miller High School for the disabled in Reseda.
Gonzales and others had threatened to sue to prevent the 16
schools from being phased out.
Gonzales said parents and students were ecstatic when they
heard the news last week that Miller would stay as it is.
"Every student deserves to be treated as an individual," she
said. "One-size-fits-all approaches to education are a recipe
for miscommunication and disaster."
Catherine Blakemore, one of the attorneys who filed the
initial Chanda Smith lawsuit, said the recent mediation
allowed parents on both sides of the debate to do what they
think is best for their children.
"We're striking a balance so that all children can get the
services that are most appropriate for them." she said.
An estimated 45,000 special education students, including many
with learning disabilities, are already integrated, at least
part time, at many regular Los Angeles schools.
Nearly 30,000 others attend segregated all-day classes at
those mainstream campuses, and will be more integrated by 2006
under the court order. The 4,800 at the 16 sheltered centers
can stay there if their parents want.
The integration will cost millions of dollars, district
officials say, for hiring classroom aides, training teachers
and principals and renovating buildings.
Many of the details are still being discussed in mediation.
Mary Falvey, an education professor at Cal State Los Angeles
who co-wrote the district's integration plan, initially
advocated phasing out the 16 special schools.
Although she supports the settlement, she said she hopes
children in those schools still will be exposed to the wider
"I still think kids who attend those school have a right to
interaction with non-disabled peers," Falvey said. "Several of
the [special] schools have jump-started ways to create those
She referred to the Alfonso B. Perez School in East Los
Angeles, a K-12 campus for 400 disabled students that also
enrolls nearly 100 non-disabled students in kindergarten
through third grades.
Other special education campuses also have added non-disabled
preschools or activities that mix the groups, she said.
Donnalyn Anton, associate superintendent of special education
for the district, said the agreement shows that both sides can
"There's a strong, strong feeling among some parents of
children at these centers that they've made the best choice
for their kids where their kids are safe and getting programs
that they need," she said. "And there was a lot of resentment
that someone else, some court edict or plan, would tell them
what the best placement of their child was."
Joy Efron, principal of Frances Blend school for the blind,
who has rallied public support for the separate schools,
called the agreement a "a great victory for students with
disabilities and for their families," she said. "This is a
real validation of what special schools do in terms of
teaching specialized skills, access skills, quality of life
16 L.A. Unified Schools for Special Ed
Sixteen special education schools and centers in the Los
Angeles Unified School District were to be phased out, but now
will be preserved. They are:
Banneker School, South Los Angeles.
Blend School, East Hollywood.
Lanterman High School, near downtown Los Angeles.
Leichman School, Reseda.
Lokrantz School, Reseda.
Lowman School, North Hollywood.
Lull School, Encino.
McBride School, Mar Vista.
Miller High School, Reseda.
Pacific School, Huntington Park.
Perez School, East Los Angeles.
Salvin School, near downtown Los Angeles.
Sellery School, Gardena.
West Valley School, Van Nuys.
Widney High School, Mid-City Los Angeles.
Willenberg School, San Pedro.