A group of students at a high risk of dropping out because of poor credits are not expected to join until August, but a decision about whether or not to accommodate them in a secluded space on campus meant for students with special needs is likely to be made within the next three weeks.
In an interview with Eagle Rock Patch this past Friday, Annick Draghi, an LAUSD director for secondary schools in District 4, said that LAUSD officials are “still having conversations” about precisely where to house the so-called “Tri-C” students. Some of the students, Draghi confirmed, have been expelled from other schools, and the decision to send them to Eagle Rock High is a cost-cutting measure for the budget-strapped LAUSD.
On Tuesday, February 7, Patch reported that during the previous week Draghi led a group of LAUSD officials on a “walk through” of the ERHS campus to address concerns that the Tri-C students would displace the special-needs students, some of whom were born with Down syndrome and who receive “Community-Based Instruction” in such simple tasks as how to shop, cook and take a bus.
Some 30 special-needs students are currently being educated in two chain-linked bungalows located near the ERHS softball field on the edge of Yosemite Drive. (See photos.)
Principal Asked to ‘Locate Two Classrooms’
The LAUSD asked ERHS Principal Salvador Velasco to “locate two classrooms” for the incoming Tri-C students, Draghi said, adding that the principal is “still in communication with the District” about whether the students will end up in the two bungalows used by the special-needs students.
“Somewhere in the school we need two rooms for the Tri-C students,” Draghi said. “It is up to the principal to determine which two classrooms will cause the least disruption to everyone, including our special-needs children who are presently in the high school.”
The Tri-C students have “either had social or learning difficulties or emotional problems” that have contributed to their “lack of success in getting credits,” Draghi said, explaining that no more than 40 of these students will be attending Eagle Rock High in two rooms meant specially for them.
Allowing Low-Achievers to ‘Get Back on Track’
One of the rooms will accommodate 17 students under a “Continuation” program aimed at allowing high school students to continue their education instead of dropping out, Draghi said. The second room will accommodate another 17 students under the District’s “Special Education Continuation” program meant for students who have difficulty learning, she said.
Both groups will follow a curriculum that “allows them to get back on track,” Draghi said, adding that the students will be taught by specially trained teachers “who understand their problems.”
Draghi said she did not know where the Tri-C students headed to ERHS are currently based and whether or not all of them reside in Eagle Rock. It’s possible, she said, that some of the students might be from other parts of Northeast L.A. (Draghi referred these details to another LAUSD administrator, Janet Davis, who is in charge of continuation high schools and option schools. Patch is waiting to hear back from Davis.)
Resistance to Tri-C Students ‘a Shame’
Asked what she made of the reaction of parents who are worried about the presence of Tri-C students on campus because some of them might have had criminal backgrounds that led to their expulsion from other schools, Draghi said: “That’s a shame because the neighborhood has students who are academically at risk and are struggling.”
Besides, she added: “These students choose to continue their education instead of dropping out and they have teachers who know how to get them academically back on track.”
If anything, said Draghi, “we should welcome them so that they don’t end up on the streets—and this is what we should be doing for all our communities.”
Draghi’s arguments cut little ice with Alejandro Jimenez, the father of a junior at Eagle Rock High. Jimenez recently spoke with the LAUSD director over the phone to convey his concern over the plan to send Tri-C students to the school his daughter attends, and from where his son Alejandro Jimenez-Jaramillo graduated last summer before joining Harvard as a freshman.
“Clearly, the Tri-C program will directly and negatively impact our existing special-needs students” if they are displaced from their bungalows, Jimenez wrote in an email to Patch, pointing out that it’s not yet clear how the LAUSD plans to continue to serve the students, as required by law, in an alternative facility.
“Given LAUSD's current and worsening budget crisis, any such replacement facilities would be years in the future at best,” Jimenez said. “Until then, our special needs students will suffer in order to benefit Tri-C students who started life out with far more advantages than our special needs students.” He added: “This is a perverse and inequitable result.”
'Alarming' Failure to Consult Parents, Students
What’s more, a Tri-C program on campus is likely to diminish the school’s “attractiveness to parents who would otherwise choose to have their children attend ERHS due to its I.B., Honors and Gifted Magnet programs,” Jimenez said.
(Last summer, ERHS became the first LAUSD school to be fully certified by the global International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program, a cross-disciplinary curriculum that connects academic subject to each other as well as to key aspects in students’ lives.)
“The only thing more alarming than the substance of the District's proposed initiative is its failure to notify ERHS parents and students about it,” Jimenez said, adding: “The District must immediately suspend this proposal and hold public meetings to address the many and passionate concerns expressed by Eagle Rock parents and residents in the comments” section of Patch’s previous article on the issue.
Meanwhile, another parent whose child attends ERHS and who was the focus of one of Eagle Rock Patch's “Whiz Kid” articles in June 2011 emailed LAUSD Board Member Bennett Kayser on Sunday to inquire about the imminent arrival of Tri-C students on the Eagle Rock High campus.
Campus Safety Fears Add to Overcrowding
“If students will be coming to the program who have been expelled from other schools, then I would be concerned about their behavior and campus safety,” wrote the parent, Jillian Pierson, in the email to Kayser, which was copied to Patch. “What extra precautions will the district be offering?”
Added Pierson: “The school already suffers from over-crowded classrooms, mixing of middle school children as young as 11 with senior high school students on campus, and the challenge of educating kids with a huge diversity of academic abilities.”