Learning your way around the LAUSD school selection process

All parents want their children to receive a good education, and according to federal law, every child is entitled to receive one. Actually making this happen, though, and making sure it’s of as high a quality as possible, may be easier said than done – especially if you live in an underserved neighborhood.

Some Los Angeles families have easy access to high-quality schools. Others have to work harder to get their kids what they deserve.

With 1,100 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, its 640,000 students have many types of schools and educational opportunities available. One plus is a flexible enrollment policy that allows students from one neighborhood to attend a school in another. But the district's size and bureaucracy can also become overwhelming to families.

Here are some suggestions from LAUSD parents to help other parents work within the system to reach their educational goals.

Select possible schools

If your neighborhood school is not a good fit, you can apply or enter your child in a lottery to be chosen for a school you prefer. Choices include themed magnet schools, gifted magnet schools, schools for advanced studies (schools-within-a-school where magnet programs are over-enrolled), independent charter schools, affiliated charter schools and span schools (K-6 or K-8 instead of the more familiar K-5 and 6-8 grade-level configurations).

Parents can also apply for in-district child care permits at schools that provide afterschool care. Another possibility is the Permits with Transportation program, which allows students to attend assigned out-of-immediate-area schools. The LAUSD's eChoices website explains all these options in more detail.

But how to decide which schools to apply for? Consider whether your child has any special interests, like the arts or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as LAUSD contains many such special-interest schools. And, of course, transportation is a big issue: California law requires students to be bused only when they live more than two miles away from school in elementary and five miles away in high school.

For parent Nina Beverly, the process included comparing schools' test scores and relying on word-of-mouth reports from other parents. She also suggests checking with schools of interest before you apply: "See if they anticipate openings for each age group you're looking for. Some know, some don't, but it's worth asking."

Meet all deadlines

This is vital. Unfortunately, meeting the deadlines can be challenging because there is no standard calendar of deadlines throughout the district. In Beverly's experience, most school application periods open October or November and close in January or February. Lotteries are held in March and families learn the results in May, she says.

Understand schools' sibling policy

If you have more than one child, pay close attention to the sibling policy at each school where you apply. This has been Beverly's biggest challenge: in 2016-2017, each of her four children will attend a different school. Her transportation time is 1.5-2 hours each way.

Her advice: Indicate on every application that your student has a sibling in hopes of having the sibling accepted, too. "Don't put your kid in one school assuming you'll get sibling priority for the next because it doesn't always work that way," Beverly says. "Even with the afterschool programs, some give siblings priority, some don't."

Follow up on waitlists

For 2016-2017, Marcela Aguirre has her 13-year-old daughter on the waitlist at two schools. "We are eighth on the list at one school, so I am very hopeful," she says. "Both schools told me the same thing: families move, parents do change their minds, so don't give up hope just because you're on the waitlist."

Schools wait until the first week of school to select students from their waitlist. This timing creates its own challenges for families, who must quickly adapt transportation plans and may have already purchased school-specific supplies like uniforms.

Educate yourself

If the school selection and application process seems overwhelming, help is available.  Parent Revolution is a nonprofit that helps LAUSD parents work to improve their schools, and Great Public Schools Now is an organization working to expand access to great schools into more neighborhoods.

Parents can also enroll in the Los Angeles Urban League Parent Academy, a nine-week parent training and empowerment program designed to help parents navigate the LAUSD process. This made all the difference for Amiyoko Shabazz, whose 11-year-old son needed to change schools. Parent Academy "teaches you what's going on in the school system, how to advocate and how to be confident when you're sitting in the room with the teachers," she says. "It made me more confident, less fearful."

—Darcy Lewis for Great Public Schools Now

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