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Students converge on L.A. Unified heaquarters, threaten test boycott

May 22, 2009 |  1:12 pm

A few students were detained by police during the mostly peaceful protest at the Los Angeles Unified School District's downtown headquarters.

About 350 students from the Santee Education Complex marched three miles this morning to the downtown headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The students were protesting looming teachers layoffs adopted to balance a $596.1-million hole in the district’s budget for next year. The projected deficit grew as much as $400 million this week in the wake of further declines in state revenue and the voters’ defeat of ballot measures that would have raised revenue to cover part of the deficit.

As the Santee students began to leave, a 50-strong contingent arrived from Manual Arts High School, which also is south of downtown. At least 40 students also protested outside Lincoln High on the Eastside, and there were unconfirmed rumors of student actions elsewhere.

“This is only the beginning,” said Korrine Robinson, an 18-year-old Santee senior. “What I’m hoping for is that the bigger people upstairs will take notice.”

They did, while offering only limited encouragement . Supt. Ramon C. Cortines told students he would continue to explore all possible options, but so far had no viable alternative to making cuts that he also disliked.

Santee student organizers threatened to boycott state testing next week. Most testing has been completed at schools on a traditional calendar; Santee, however, has a year-round schedule, and for two-thirds of the school, testing is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

These tests help determine a school’s academic ranking, and schools are rated on the participation rate as well as the results. 

“I don’t know that our parents are going to condone a boycott,” said Principal Richard Chavez. “The test results that come back reflect on the students, the school and the community.”

Chavez added that students could face discipline and the loss of privileges, such as attending next week’s prom, if they boycott testing.

Parents also will be notified about students missing class to protest, but the students would not face specific discipline related to today’s event, Chavez said. The school has a progressive policy for dealing with truancy, with the response escalating if the problem persists, he said.

School police arrested two students: one for having smoking paraphernalia and his friend for possessing a lighter. They were held for processing in the smoker’s patio outside the building, sending adult smokers scurrying.

On Monday, during a rally at Santee, police ticketed three students for disorderly conduct. Officials also invited students to the auditorium for a question-and-answer session that lasted about two hours.

Some student organizers wouldn’t give their names because, they said, they feared retribution from administrators.

“The district has money to use,” said a student going by “M.” He was referring to federal dollars that L.A. Unified plans to use over the next two school years to cover shortfalls. “They just don’t want to use it. They have ways to get money.”

World history teacher Ron Gochez said he appreciated the student support. “It’s a very interesting sentiment on campus,” Gochez said.  “Teachers are almost depending on the students because it’s the last opportunity to do something.” More than 30 teachers at Santee could lose their jobs, he added.

Today’s event was spirited but peaceful.

Miguel Chay, a 10th grader who twisted his knee playing in a soccer league, walked all the way on crutches, because “they’re firing teachers, and I don’t want to be without education.”

He was going to have to walk back as well. The district elected not to provide buses for a return to campus, as it has during some other student rallies.

As the event broke up, Robinson urged fellow students to be responsible as well as politically active citizens.

“Throw your trash away, people,” she called through a loudspeaker. “Come on.”

-- Howard Blume

Blume is twittering about budget woes and other doings affecting the Los Angeles Unified School District. Follow his updates at http://twitter.com/howardblume.

Photo: A few students were detained by police during the mostly peaceful protest at the Los Angeles Unified School District's downtown headquarters. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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