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School Adopts Minority Enrollment Program : Education: Ventura Unified will take steps to increase admissions in response to a federal civil rights investigation of Mound Elementary.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A federal civil rights investigation of enrollment practices at Mound School in Ventura has ended with the school district agreeing to take several steps to give minority students a better chance at admission, officials said Monday.

The probe--which had not been disclosed previously--began last spring after the Office for Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, received a complaint that Mound School was more accessible to white students than to minorities.

Mound has a reputation as one of the best elementary schools in the Ventura Unified School District, with strong teachers and highly involved parents. A lottery is used to decide who gets to attend.

Following a visit by investigators this fall, school officials said they reached an agreement with the civil rights office last week on a voluntary program for boosting minority enrollment.

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Of the roughly 550 students at the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school, 90% are white, a significantly higher number than the 65% white enrollment districtwide, Assistant Supt. Arlene Miro said.

Under the settlement, Mound will give minority students preference in the annual admissions lottery, Miro said, although details have not been determined.

The school will also begin advertising on Spanish-language radio stations to urge Latino families to enter their children in the drawing.

And Mound will gear up to become a magnet school offering unique mathematics programs by next fall, in an attempt to lure new students from all over the city.

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If these initiatives fail to significantly boost minority enrollment by the fall of 1995, Miro said, the district has agreed to consider offering bus service to students who live far from Mound but want to attend the school.

School officials said they do not know who made the complaint that triggered the investigation. Federal officials involved in the probe could not be reached for comment Monday.

Even before the federal scrutiny, however, the district had formed a committee of parents and school staff to look into ways to diversify the school, Miro said.

“We knew there had to be a correction,” she said. “People always talked about Mound School and the accessibility and who goes there. It seems to be very white compared to other schools.”

The problem, she said, is that not enough Latinos and other minorities enter their names in the admissions lottery.

Mound determines enrollment by giving first priority to students already there and their siblings. Each spring, it fills any open spaces for the following autumn through a random drawing of applicants’ names.

Last spring, 218 students sought admission to the school, but there was space for only 91.

Mound is the only Ventura school that holds an admissions lottery, but at one time it was closed for lack of enrollment.

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Bounded by Balboa Middle School and the Santa Paula Freeway on one side and agricultural fields on another, Mound is cut off from residential areas that could generate enough students to fill the school.

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But in 1988 Mound reopened as the first year-round school in Ventura, serving as a sort of magnet school for families who prefer the non-traditional school calendar.

The school immediately earned the reputation as special, said Nicky van Nieuwburg, president of the local Parent-Teacher Assn. Council. “When Mound opened, it attracted some of the best teachers in the district.”

Even though it is not a magnet school, Mound offers certain programs unavailable at other schools, such as a course for boosting children’s self-esteem and classes for improving students’ physical coordination.

The school draws from all over the city, and the number of minorities who apply grows steadily every year, Principal Beverly McCaslin said. But the majority still come from the more affluent, mostly white east end of the city.

One reason for the lack of racial balance may be that families from the heavily Latino neighborhoods around Ventura Avenue do not see any pressing reason to send their children across town to school, Miro said. Since Mound reopened, four schools on the west side have also converted to the year-round calendar.

Some parents have argued that more minorities would attend Mound if they had transportation, Miro said.

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McCaslin said Mound already tries to help families arrange car-pooling for students. But the district is trying to avoid the expense of busing by first attempting other means of attracting minority students to the school.

In addition to setting up a math program that will be unique among Ventura schools, McCaslin said she will promote the facility to parents at preschool centers around the city and to service organizations.

Despite the statistics, Janet George, president of the Mound Parent-Teacher Organization, said the school already appears to have a diverse population.

But George, who teaches science one day a week at Mound and also has two children at the school, said she supports the effort to attract more minorities.

“I don’t think anyone’s intention at any time was to discriminate against anyone,” she said. “I want there to be a balance. I want my kids to learn how to get along with everybody.”


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