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Torrance School Administrators Defend Policy of Permit Students : Education: The board members dispute teacher complaints that the 900 out-of-district students may be changing the classroom climate.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The nearly 900 students who have special permits to attend Torrance schools because they live outside the district received staunch support this week from school officials who dispute teachers’ claims those students may be “changing the climate” in classrooms.

Several Torrance school board members and school administrators defended the so-called permit students, and they appear to have no plans to change their policy of admitting out-of-town students who show compelling reasons for enrolling in Torrance and have the permission of their home district.

“These kids that we’ve spoken about are not problem kids,” said Richard Ducar, administrator of special services, during a Monday workshop on the permit issue.

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The teachers union, however, voiced concern that permit students may be responsible for what they perceive as recent changes in the classroom environment.

“There’s something different that’s going on,” Robert Little, president of the Torrance Teachers Assn., told the board. “The teachers look around and say, ‘These students we’re dealing with don’t have the basic skills.’ . . . There’s been a drastic change.”

And Robert Maxwell, a Torrance High School teacher, said, “I think we have in Torrance a little different climate than what we had.”

The school board scheduled the workshop after the teachers union wrote the board in October to request a review of the district’s permit policy. The union had suggested that permit students could be the source of disciplinary and academic problems.

But some administrators said Monday that they are satisfied the district is properly screening non-Torrance students who are seeking permits.

They added that if a permit student misbehaves, the school can simply revoke the permit, a swifter type of discipline than faced by Torrance students, who can only be removed through expulsion hearings.

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“If they’re on a permit, they’re only here as long as we let them,” Trustee William R. Blischke said.

Blischke agreed with teachers that the educational climate may be changing, but he pointed to a list of other factors--including larger class sizes, family problems and the recession--that may also be to blame. And he questioned whether problems can be tied to permit students.

“Nobody has the data to make those sorts of allegations,” Blischke said.

But Little, who teaches at Torrance High, said at the end of the meeting that he does not think the permit issue will go away.

“I don’t think it’s closed,” he said.

William A. Franchini, the union’s executive director, said Wednesday that teachers will review the school-by-school data on permit students compiled by the district. In some cases, the statistics may show that classroom problems are not related to the number of permit students, he said.

The district’s policy allows out-of-town students to enroll if they meet certain requirements, such as having after-school child care in Torrance or wanting to take classes not available in their home district.

A district study showed that 887 permit students were attending Torrance schools this fall, up from 713 two years ago. A sharp increase occurred in the high schools, where there were 365 permit students in November, up from 150 in 1989-90.

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An additional 312 non-Torrance students in kindergarten through eighth grade were admitted under a program that allows children of people who work in Torrance to attend school here.

Officials say they do not know how many other students may have enrolled in Torrance schools by using fake addresses.

The district, which recently intensified its efforts to weed out those students, investigated more than 80 students this fall and found that about half had falsified residency information, Ducar said.

Board member David Sargent suggested that “if there’s a problem with climate, perhaps it’s a situation where students are here illegally.” But students who live in Torrance are not immune from causing problems, he said.

“It’s entirely possible,” Sargent said, “these problems are home-grown.”

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