Parents of children attending West Hollywood’s Laurel Span School have organized to protest a proposal to change the school, which now serves children from kindergarten to eighth grade, into a middle school, which would serve only sixth through eighth grades.
Two petitions objecting to that idea have garnered hundreds of signatures. Opponents of converting Laurel into a middle school also have created a Facebook page that outlines some of their concerns.
Laurel Span School, which serves a little more than 300 students, is located on North Hayworth Avenue near Willoughby and, according to the Public School Review, 73% of its students are from racial or ethnic minorities. The only other public school in West Hollywood that serves children in kindergarten through fifth grade is West Hollywood Elementary, which serves nearly 400 of such children at its campus on Hammond Street at Harratt. Public School Review reports that only a third of its students are minorities. A span school is one that spans multiple levels (elementary and middle, middle and high, or elementary through high school).
Parents who have discussed the issue with WEHOville say that one of the benefits of Laurel’s status as a span school is that students remain on the same campus from when they first enroll through eighth grade.
Anayanett Dominguez, the mother of two Laurel Span School graduates and of three children who are currently attending the school, has been an outspoken opponent of converting Laurel Span School into a middle school. In an interview with WEHOville, she praised the fact that “our kids have had the opportunity to grow up with the kids they started with.”
“Laurel Elementary is not only a school but it’s also a second family home,” Dominguez said. “Keeping them all together allows them to have a better potential to succeed.”
While parents have protested the plan to change Laurel Span School, school officials are saying that no definitive decision has been made.
Brian Wisniewski, the school’s principal, has told City Hall staffers that the school will definitely remain a kindergarten through eighth grade span school for the 2019-2020 school year. He said he expects there may be meetings next year about the possibility of Laurel becoming a stand-alone middle school in the future.
Cheryl Hildreth, who is superintendent of LAUSD’s Local District West, affirmed Wisniewski’s statement. In an email to city staffers, she said: “the district is aware that there is interest in having a smaller localized middle school in the area and will be pulling together a steering committee of parents from the West Hollywood/Fairfax area to explore this possibility.” A meeting currently is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday at the school with Keith Abrahams, the LAUSD’s executive director of student integration.
Another parent who has been an outspoken critic of converting Laurel Span School into a middle school is Steven Veninga, who has a child in the second grade at Laurel and is chairman of the School Site Council. Veninga has claimed that Hildreth met secretly with teachers at Laurel to tell them that the 2019-2020 school year will be its last as an elementary school. As a result, he said, some teachers are planning to leave Laurel and some parents already are looking at other options. Hildreth has denied allegations that she met secretly with teachers and told them not to disclose the meeting.
Dominguez and Veninga also have criticized Nick Melvoin, the member of the LAUSD board whose District 4 includes West Hollywood, saying that he supports the middle school conversion and hasn’t reached out to parents. Melvoin appeared at the City Council’s April 1 meeting to state his support for a proposal by Mayor John D’Amico and Councilmember Lauren Meister to “support … LAUSD in its effort to create a new middle school pathway for West Hollywood residents.”
The parents have been reaching out to City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath about the issue. “West Hollywood families should not be pitted against each other when it comes to serving the needs of our children,” Horvath said in an email message to WEHOville. “Every child in West Hollywood deserves to have access to safe, quality, public education that takes into account each student’s learning needs. This is LAUSD’s primary charge.
“At our April 1st meeting, I specifically raised my concern about LAUSD targeting Laurel Span School, which provides a supportive learning environment that includes critical special needs classes for local students. I am grateful for the engagement of all parents who are making their concerns known to the School Board, and I support their effort to improve the school options that serve our community.”
A memorandum to the Council explaining the April 1 proposal noted that the only other public middle school option for students in the area is Bancroft Middle School, which is on Las Palmas Avenue, just east of Highland Avenue and outside of West Hollywood’s city limits. The proposal also asked that City Hall staff analyze the needs of families with school-age children in West Hollywood and perform community outreach with parents, the LAUSD, and other community stakeholders.
In an interview with WEHOville, Veninga said that changing Laurel to a middle school would be harmful to kindergarten and elementary age school children from low-income and homeless families, whose needs it addresses with the support of a grant from the federal Title 1 program. And he has said it could lead to elimination of its special needs programs, whose focuses include autism and specific learning disabilities. Hildreath already has confirmed that the special education program is closing because of its very low participation level.
“We know that we are not as wealthy a community as Wonderland or WeHoEL,” Veninga said in an email message, referring to West Hollywood Elementary and Wonderland Avenue Elementary, which has kindergarten through fifth grade classes at its location near Laurel Canyon. “We certainly have families who saved up their money and invested in houses in WeHo so they could attend Laurel.
“But we also have a lot of hard-working renter families. Our population also includes a majority of title one students who qualify for free lunch. We have single moms, Russian families and a number of families with special needs children. We are a rainbow of inclusivity offering the community a solid school K-8 option for their children. We are exactly what we believe reflects the city of West Hollywood values.”