Los Angeles school officials said Thursday they will pull back from an order requiring high school academic teams to reflect the ethnic makeup of their schools and instead will urge coaches to encourage more female and minority students to compete.
School Supt. Harry Handler said he will ask the coaches to “make a diligent and reasonable effort” to ensure “that every student has an equal chance to participate.”
The final policy will not have “any language that has an implication of or suggests a quota,” Handler added.
District officials have been under pressure from both the school board and the U.S. Department of Justice to retreat on the directive issued earlier this month.
In a May 8 memo from the high school division, coaches of the “academic decathlon” teams were told that “in order to compete, teams must reflect . . . the sex and ethnic makeup of the total school population. No exceptions are permitted.”
When the memo became public, several board members complained to Handler that they would not accept such a stringent policy, and a Justice Department attorney called from Washington to tell school officials that a quota, if enforced, would violate the Civil Rights Act.
Paul Possemato, head of the high school division, firmly denied that he intended to require that the six-member teams have a “specific number” of females or minorities, but he also said squads that did not pass his “visual review” would be barred from competition.
Handler said again Thursday that he supported the “intent” of Possemato’s move, but disagreed with the language of the memo. At his urging, Possemato met with a group of coaches Thursday afternoon to draw up a revised policy.
One likely revision, district spokesman William Rivera said, would be to limit practice sessions for the academic teams to times immediately after school, on school property, which is the case for most athletic teams.
Home Practice Sessions
“Some coaches insist on having practice sessions at their home in the evening or on the weekend. If you’re a black kid who lives at 111th Street and you are bused to Cleveland High (in Reseda), you’re not going to be able to participate if you can’t make that practice schedule,” Rivera said.
The spokesman said that complaints first arose about high school academic teams from the Westside and the San Fernando Valley, which were all Anglo even though half or more of the schools’ students were minorities. “But most of the minority kids at those schools are bused in and they might not have the same chance to participate” on the academic teams, he said.
The 4-year-old “academic decathlon” brings together teams from the 49 district high schools for a daylong competition each November. The students are quizzed in 10 academic areas and many of the coaches spend weeks drilling their teams on questions that may arise in the competition.
Palisades High on the Westside has placed first each year, while another Westside school, University High, came in second this year. Dorsey High, with a nearly all-black team, has regularly placed among the top five teams.
Handler said he expected that it would be at least a week before district officials would settle on a final policy for the academic teams.
School board member Roberta Weintraub said Thursday that if such a policy is not issued in a week, she will seek a change at the board.
“Turning the academic decathlon into an affirmative action program is ridiculous,” Weintraub said. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with that kind of policy. And if it is not settled soon, I will bring forth a motion to change it.”
Board President John Greenwood also said he had “both practical and philosophical problems” with the stringent policy, but added that he expects the matter to be revolved by Handler without involving the board.