Fernald Backers to Ask Regents for Moratorium on Closing School

Times Staff Writer

Friends of Fernald will ask the University of California Board of Regents to impose a one-year moratorium on the closure of Fernald, a school and research center on learning disabilities at UCLA.

Spokesman Michael Cornwell said the group drafted the petition to the regents on Tuesday after a rally Sunday at which UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young indicated that he probably will not reverse his decision.

Fernald officials were notified Feb. 19 that Young had decided to close Fernald on June 30 because similar schools exist elsewhere and Fernald's funds could be diverted to university research on childhood disabilities.

About 70 learning-handicapped students attend school at Fernald, a research center that develops and tests educational theories on learning disabilities. Fernald also trains graduate students and provides tutoring and community services, according to director Howard Adelman.

Educational Opportunities

Parents view Fernald as an irreplaceable resource for their children because of educational opportunities developed in a research setting, Cornwell said.

In the Feb. 19 letter notifying Adelman of Fernald's impending closure, Dean John D. O'Connor said that since Fernald was founded about 65 years ago, other schools for the learning-handicapped have become available in the Los Angeles area.

O'Connor also said that closure would allow funds formerly allocated to Fernald to be used for an expanded research program on childhood disabilities in the UCLA psychology department. Friends of Fernald have held several weekend meetings to protest what they believe was a "hasty" decision to close the school.

At last Sunday's rally, about 100 members wore yellow and blue "Save Fernald" buttons as they peppered Young and O'Connor with protests, Cornwell said.

Young momentarily raised supporters' hopes when he said "no decision is irrevocable," but when parents applauded he quickly added that the chances of changing this particular decision are "not great."

Young was not available for comment Tuesday, but O'Connor confirmed in a telephone interview that Young was unlikely to reverse himself.

'An Informative Exchange'

O'Connor said Sunday's meeting provided "an informative exchange of questions and answers," but he expects Young's decision to stand. "The situation remains the way it has been," O'Connor said.

Parents said they had heard that Fernald is being closed to make room for the UCLA Child Care Center, but university officials said this is not true.

Parents also said they have been told that Fernald has been criticized for not doing enough research and have asked O'Connor for copies of reports made by two faculty teams who studied Fernald's programs.

Supporters have defended the school's research accomplishments, listing numerous studies and books published by Fernald over the years.

O'Connor said that he plans to provide Friends of Fernald with a summary of two faculty appraisals, which he said may have been "a factor" in Young's decision.

O'Connor said the two studies showed that "as a research facility, Fernald had a greater potential than it had actual effectiveness."

The Friends' petition will attempt to force Young to specify his reasons for closing Fernald, Cornwell said. The group also is seeking time to respond to Young's reasons and to provide the chancellor with additional information, he said.

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