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Groups Take Schools to Task

Times Staff Writer

A national organization dedicated to parental choice in schools filed complaints Thursday with the Los Angeles and Compton school districts, claiming they do not give parents adequate notice that students can transfer from underperforming schools.

In making the charges, the Alliance for School Choice -- along with the faith-based Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education -- called on U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to sanction the two districts by withholding funds for poor students. A spokesman for Spellings said she was aware of the complaint, but declined to comment on whether any action would be taken.

Los Angeles school officials dismissed the claims as baseless. Compton officials could not be reached for comment.

Clint Bolick, president of the Alliance, said the complaints were the first of their kind in the nation. The groups targeted the two Southern California districts, he said, because of their allegedly poor notification procedures.

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Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to meet strict testing benchmarks for two consecutive years are required to notify parents that they are allowed to transfer their students to better campuses in the district.

Bolick criticized the Los Angeles school district for sending home what he called confusing letters that leave parents with little time and information on their options. Compton, he said, failed to send any information at all.

He pointed to the small number of students in each district who opt to change schools as an indication that officials are doing little to notify parents.

In the 2003-04 school year, only 215 of 203,684 eligible students in L.A. Unified transferred, according to district data.

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Many parents interviewed last year, however, said they were aware of the option but preferred to keep their children in neighborhood schools.

Kevin Reed, general counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District, called the claims outrageous, saying the district has been found to be in compliance by state and federal review teams. Reed acknowledged that the district falls short of the law’s requirement that parents be notified of the transfer option before the start of the school year because the state does not announce which schools are eligible until October.

“For a politically aggressive organization like this to make these claims is a very unfortunate distraction,” he said.

The districts are required to respond to the complaints within two months, Reed and Bolick said, and the Alliance can appeal afterward to the California Department of Education.


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