Getting Used to Year-Round

Two of life's immutable truths: Change is inevitable but often disconcerting, and most parents want what they believe is best for their children. These two facts form the emotional force behind the renewed controversy over year-round schools in Los Angeles.

The Board of Education must decide tonight how best to deal with school overcrowding. The district of 610,000 students, second only to New York in size, is rapidly approaching classroom capacity. The continuing flow of immigrants to the Southland, augmented by a baby boomlet of the past few years, has forced the district to bus almost 25,000 youngsters this year to less crowded schools in the San Fernando Valley, Westside and Harbor areas. Many schools in Southeast and Central Los Angeles that bus children to other schools are already on what the district calls "multi-track" year-round schedules. That means students are divided into several groups, with at least one group always on vacation, allowing a school to make more efficient use of its classroom space.

But even with those measures, more children are being bused, and the schools to which the children travel are feeling the strain. The increasing numbers of immigrant children are merely a reflection of profound social, economic and political changes all over the world. Parents' wishing that somehow life were more homogeneous and less complicated for today's children will not make it so. Time and again children have proven far more open and adaptable than adults.

The school district needs additional schools faster than they can be built. District officials have determined they need 23% more classroom capacity right away; they are suggesting that 109 schools take a variety of steps this summer, including using portable classrooms, multi-track schedules or increasing classroom size. Some parents at "receiver" schools are upset, threatening lawsuits and bemoaning the loss of the "middle-class ideal."

But the American way of life is not threatened by the changes contemplated by the school board. Simply for practical reasons, the board must move to put all schools on the same calendar to lay the groundwork for coordinated, planned expansion of the school schedule as future needs dictate--and needs dictate that year-round schools are coming to Los Angeles. Even Gov. George Deukmejian, in his State of the State address, warned Californians not to "depend simply on building our way" out of the classroom shortage.

In fact, the term year-round is really a misnomer for some of the options being considered: A "single track," for example, could be like college semester system with a holiday and summer break.

Still, if year-round schools are inevitable, the problems they can cause are not. The fact that Southeast and Central area children were forced to endure hot classrooms in summer for years is no reason to extend that unfair situation; some type of air-conditioning relief for classrooms must be part of a year-round plan. The school board also should give parents ample time to make new day-care arrangements and other preparations in anticipation of the change. But plan for change they must. Otherwise, change will come anyway--with chaos as its companion.

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