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Navigating the system: Los Angeles

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By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez

Child care permits

If both parents work full-time and child care is a necessity, families can request a school that provides child care (before- and after-school care) by applying for a child care permit. Some schools have on-site after-school programs run by outside nonprofit organizations, like the YMCA. No transportation is provided by the school district, but in some cases the child care provider will provide transportation to and from the school. Child care permits must be renewed annually and there are a limited number of slots available. Schools that provide child care have lotteries for space available in May or June, with applications available at the individual schools.

Charter schools (independent and affiliated)

Independent charters are public schools with rigorous and innovative standards-based curriculum authorized by LAUSD and approved by the state of California. Different charters operate in different ways, and don’t follow the same requirements that public schools have to meet. Transportation is not provided. Here's a list of all the charter schools in L.A. county. Application, procedures, dates, and deadlines vary, so check individual schools websites for details.

Patty Crost Glueck’s daughter attends Granada Hills Charter High School’s Virtual Program after years at various magnet schools. The program allows her teen, who has severe allergies, to work at her own pace and still participate in extracurricular activities on campus. “The band teacher is great, and my daughter likes the idea of having control over her school day after band is over,” says Glueck.

Affiliated charters are essentially hybrid charter schools — a unique LAUSD creation. Affiliated charters are district public schools with budgetary autonomy. Students outside zoned boundaries can attend, pending on space available. Check individual school websites for details, but expect to apply in the spring.

Permits with Transportation (PWT)

Permits with Transportation (PWT) essentially allow students to attend schools outside their immediate area. Students who receive a PWT aren’t given a choice of which school they will be attending, but they will be provided a bus if they are outside the mileage limits (currently 2 or 5 miles). Families interested in the PWT program fill out an e-Choices application. Applicants can choose to apply to both PWT and the magnet program via the same application. Siblings can attend the same school if space is available. Applications coincide with the magnet deadlines, so expect an fall autumn application in October or -November and a decision in early April.

No Child Left Behind (Public School Choice)

Federal No Child Left Behind laws mandate that if a particular school does not make the required adequate yearly progress, it is labeled as having “Program Improvement” (PI) status. If the school fails two years in a row to meet its improvement goals, the families in that school zone have the right to move their children to a different school. Find out more about eligibility at the LAUSD  e-Choices website. An added bonus: transportation is provided. Please note: to be eligible for this program, a student must currently be attending the PI school.

Span schools (K-6, K-8)

Parents worried about those difficult middle school years are finding an old idea new again. “Span schools,” or schools that include middle school grades as part of a larger elementary or high school, are popping up all over, thanks to recent school building programs and parental demand. Span schools typically have two or three classrooms of middle school students. They also provide a smaller environment for students who may have difficulty transitioning from a 300 to500 student elementary school to a 2,000 student middle school. The potential downsides of a small school include limited choices for level (honors or regular) classes and for teacher selection.

Span schools come in various configurations. The Porter Ranch Community School, for example, goes from kindergarten through 8th grade. Other span schools, like Delevan Drive Elementary , include K through 6 grades, giving students an additional year to prepare for middle school. Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES) goes from 4th through 12th grades, so once a student is accepted, parents don’t have to worry about changing schools again until college.

Private schools

Even with all the public schools available, some families opt for private school, and there are many wonderful options available, from the respected Harvard-Westlake to the two-campus, parochial Chaminade Prep. Learn more about private schools in LA.

Too much choice?

Overwhelmed by all the options? Nostalgic for the good old days, when kids could simply attend the school right down the street? The good news is that GreatSchools can offer help and perspective with ratings and parent reviews. Surf the Internet, talk to school administrators, and seek out veteran parents who’ve navigated the system before. Many schools now have Facebook pages and LAUSD has embraced advertising and promotion to help families find the right school for their children. The district supports choice,and promises that, “Every LAUSD student will have access to at least two high quality neighborhood schools.



Angel Zobel-Rodriguez is a veteran parent of several school choice programs and contributes to the Ask a Magnet Yenta website.

Comments from readers

"I am a LAUSD parent and I wish the Open Enrollment really existed. These days there are only permit available.You can apply to another school but you only get a permit if you are working or going to school full time(childcare/working permit)and the good schools always have so many application that they hold a lottery so it's really hard to get in. Also, because is a childcare permit you must sign your child up in the afternoon program full time and the price is around 400 dollar a month."
"I am a LAUSD parent and I think your percentage numbers of the student body of LAUSD are not from 2009. Can you please verify that?"
"Don't forget that LAUSD has dual language programs in Spanish, Chinese and Korean too in all levels. These are great programs and can be permited into for all in LAUSD students whose home school does not offer these programs."
"One important fact about LAUSD high schools and their special programs, (magnet, Gifted magnet, School for advanced Studies, etc. ) is that these are just specific classes within the regular high schools. Your student will still be attending the school as a whole as far as lunches, after school sports, clubs, etc. ) These are not schools that are entirely gifted students, etc. Remember when you are on the LAUSD website and you want to see how large the school is, you must add the 'magnet school' numbers to the regular school numbers, because they are all going to the same place every day."