Santa Ana Ends Lineup for Spots in Basics Schools

Times Staff Writer

For years during registration season, parents huddled in sleeping bags and crouched under makeshift tents, camping sometimes for days to secure spots at one of Santa Ana Unified's prized fundamental schools.

No more. Last year, the California attorney general declared that the first-come, first-served policy used by Santa Ana to decide who gets the limited seats at the fundamental schools -- which are open to students districtwide -- is not random or unbiased as required by law.

So this year the district will use a lottery system. Beginning Tuesday, parents will be able to pick up lottery cards at the district's three fundamental elementary schools: Greenville, Muir and Thorpe. The forms will be available until Feb. 28.

The three intermediate fundamental schools -- MacArthur, Mendez and Villa -- will have lottery forms available from Feb. 1 to Feb. 21.

Numbers will be randomly drawn by computer on March 3, and parents will be notified if their children made it. Those who do not will be put on a waiting list.

District officials said they sought the attorney general's advice after some parents complained that the previous system was unfair to those who could not afford to camp for days because of work or hardships.

And the overnight camping in front of the schools was a safety concern.

But not everyone is happy to see the tradition go. "The majority of my parents were fighting to keep first-come, first-served," said Greenville Principal Melanie Champion.

"It shows the commitment is strong. [With the lottery] they don't feel they have control over it."

The fundamental schools have a back-to-basics curriculum and generally post higher test scores.

Registration preference is given to siblings of students already enrolled in the schools, and in the case of the intermediate campuses, the first spots go to the graduates of the elementary fundamental schools.

That means there are fewer spots for newcomers.

At Champion's campus, for example, about 60 of the 140 kindergarten seats are available after siblings are enrolled.

But everyone eventually makes it into the school, Champion said, as those in the waiting list fill spots by students who transfer. Still, parents eager to get a head start were willing to brave the lines and the elements.

Last year, to curtail the long waiting periods, which were stretching to five days at some campuses, the district decided to move registration to the district office and allow people to form lines only after 5 p.m. the day before registration.

By afternoon, however, crowds had swelled across the street from the district's headquarters on Chestnut Avenue. At 5 p.m., parents rushed through the district complex.

One woman fell and injured her ankle and was taken to a hospital.

Roland Lujan, whose two daughters attended Greenville, said parents will learn to live with the new system. But he admitted that he is sad to see the old days go.

"It got to be sort of a family atmosphere," said Lujan, who is still friends with parents he met while camping overnight to enroll his daughters.

"You took care of other parents in line. Everyone watched out for each other."

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