South Gate Sues to Halt Pupil Transfer to Watts

Times Staff Writer

City officials who filed a suit this week against the Los Angeles Unified School District say their prime goal is to ensure a good education for the city's high school students.

That education, they say, is endangered by the school district's plan to transfer 250 South Gate students to Jordan High School in Watts this fall.

"We cannot rest until we're assured that South Gate students are going to receive a high-quality, low-risk education," said City Atty. Bruce Boogaard, who helped prepare the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

"How do you stand here and tell people that they've got to send their children to a place that has inferior education and an unsafe environment?" asked Councilman Hank Gonzalez. He added that the busing of students is going to have a "drastic effect on our city."

The suit seeks to overturn the Board of Education's unanimous decision May 6 to send students next fall from the west side of South Gate to the high school in Watts. The two high schools are less than a mile apart.

A lawyer for the school district said that school lawyers were reviewing the suit.

"The district felt that its position and its action complied with the law," said Allan McKittrick, assistant county counsel who serves as a school board attorney. He declined further comment.

High Crime Area, Low Scores

South Gate officials and parents have opposed the busing plan in the past, saying that Jordan High School provides lower quality education and is located in a high-crime area. State report cards for the schools show South Gate students had an average combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 752 while Jordan High students had a combined average SAT score of 589.

In its suit, the city charges that:

- South Gate students were discriminated against because the school board solved overcrowding problems at schools in the San Fernando Valley by installing portable classrooms, instead of resorting to busing.

- The district should have foreseen overcrowding problems at South Gate High.

"The real responsibility of the school board was to educate the children of the district in the community in which they live," Bruce Spragg, the city's chief administrative officer, said in the suit. "They (the school board) could have and should have seen the demographics of the community and five years ago commenced the construction of permanent high schools in those areas in which the need was predictable."

- Boundary change will promote gang violence at Jordan High by creating a rivalry between Jordan students and transferred students from South Gate.

In meetings between the two groups, the suit says, South Gate students have been "the subject of catcalls and gang ridicule."

- A school district policy that would transfer the least-senior teachers at South Gate to Jordan would discriminate against the students transferring to Jordan because they would have the less-experienced teachers.

Impact on Community's Fabric

The lawsuit further claims that before deciding to send South Gate students to Watts, the school district should have filed an environmental impact statement. It was necessary, the lawsuit contends, because the transfer of students would have a substantial effect on the social fabric of the community and would lower property values.

If the California Environmental Quality Act--which normally affects significant construction projects--were applied in this instance, the district would have to prepare an environmental impact report. It would then have to hold public hearings and address concerns raised by that report.

John Greenwood, school board president, has said that he did not believe that the district would be required to conduct an environmental impact study because the student transfer was a matter of redrawing boundary lines. "We change boundaries all the time," Greenwood said in a January interview. He was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

The City Council in January voted unanimously to hire Burbank lawyer John Wagner at $125 an hour to prepare the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

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