LAUSD’s School Choice Program: Apply by November 12!
While most of the 664,774 students in the L.A. Unified School District attend their neighborhood school, there are opportunities for students to choose a different school experience, such as magnet and charter schools and more. To apply to one of these alternative options, you need to complete the Unified Enrollment CHOICES application online or by mail by November 12, 2021.
While these programs are not specifically designed for special education students, and some have entry criteria that must be met, the district cannot discriminate or exclude a student solely because of their disability (more on this below). You can learn more about the options and the application process in the CHOICES brochure.
Here, we’ve broken down the six programs that parents and students can apply to. We also spoke with Lisa Mosko, Director of Advocacy for Special Education and Educational Rights at Speak UP Parents, on the ins-and-outs of acceptance for students with disabilities.
Magnet Schools or Centers
Magnet schools or centers provide rigorous, theme-based instruction designed to facilitate student learning and promote academic achievement. First initiated in 1977, there are now 330 magnet programs in LAUSD focused on one of eight instructional themes: Business, Communication Arts, Centers for Enriched Studies, Gifted and Highly Gifted, Liberal Arts, Public Service, Science/Technology/Engineering/Math, and Visual and Performing Arts. Some magnet programs occupy entire school sites, while others are magnet centers located on residential school campuses with access to activities and experiences shared with the host school.
All district students, including English learners, standard English learners, students with disabilities, and gifted/talented learners, are encouraged to apply. Examples include Hamilton High School Academy of Music and Performing Arts and the San Pedro High School STEAM magnet program. See the magnet list for more information about these programs.
Permits with Transportation
Permits with Transportation (PWT) is one of L.A. Unified’s original integration programs and was established to bus students to Revere, Portola, or Taft high schools. Students can apply if they attend Audubon, Drew, Gompers, Harte Prep, Mann, Muir, Obama Global, Ánimo College Prep, Crenshaw, Dorsey, Jordan, Locke, Manual Arts, or Washington Prep.
Dual Language Education
Dual Language Education programs provide grade-level content and literacy instruction in two languages (English and the target language) in an environment where cultural and linguistic assets are recognized. There are more than 200 Dual Language Education programs located on regular school campuses with access to activities and experiences shared with the host school. The programs may be Two-Way Immersion, One-Way Immersion, or World Language Immersion with Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, French, Armenian, Arabic, or Japanese as target languages. The program is designed to balance in equal proportions English learners with students speaking English as a first language.
Schools for Advanced Studies
Schools for Advanced Studies (SAS) are designated for their exemplary Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) implementation, but LAUSD offers GATE programs at all neighborhood schools. By providing high-quality instruction with an emphasis on depth, complexity, acceleration, and novelty, SAS sites offer high-level academic opportunities that meet the unique educational needs of K–12 gifted learners. These learners are identified in the Intellectual Ability, High Achievement Ability, Specific Academic Ability, Creative Ability and Leadership Ability categories or verified based on critical thinking and achievement.
A student must be placed in the GATE program at their home school to be eligible. For students outside of LAUSD, call the Choices Support Line at (213) 241-4177 or email email@example.com to request the appropriate Verification of Eligibility form.
Admission Criteria Schools
Admission Criteria Schools have additional selection requirements. L.A. Unified offers two single-gender leadership academies with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as four Early College Programs with concurrent enrollment opportunities for high school students. Some examples include Girls Academic Leadership, Boys Academic Leadership Academy, and the Early College Academy — LA Trade Tech College.
Affiliated Charter Schools
Affiliated Charter Schools are semi-autonomous LAUSD public schools that converted to affiliated charter status. The schools are authorized by the L.A. Unified Board of Education. Affiliated Charter Schools are governed by the Board of Education and receive direct oversight by a Local District Office and the L.A. Unified Charter Schools Division. The full list of schools includes Sherman Oaks Elementary Charter School and Sylmar Charter High School.
For charter schools that are not affiliated with LAUSD, such as WISH and CHIME, see the schools’ websites for application information. Non-Affiliated Charters have their own timeframe and application requirements.
Do all these programs accept students with disabilities?
Lisa Mosko, Director of Advocacy for Special Education and Educational Rights at Speak UP Parents, told us that magnets are typically the hardest for students with disabilities to get into.
“If a child has an IEP, all public schools have an obligation to admit them, no questions asked. However, I’ve heard anecdotally that many students with IEPs are sent a ‘no match’ letter from the district if they’re accepted to a magnet school. This is based on the district or magnet school’s assumption that a student with an IEP cannot perform at the level demanded by that magnet school. Parents should be wary of this, and if they feel that the student can thrive and grow in that environment, fight it. They have the law (IDEA) on their side.”
All charter schools have a blind lottery for admissions and must admit any student selected by the lottery, regardless of whether or not they have an IEP. To put this in context, Mosko explains that “there is a prevailing misconception that independent charter schools are not public schools. They are in fact public schools, and have as much legal obligation to enroll and serve students with disabilities as other types of public schools. They are also 100% beholden to the same policies put forth by IDEA and CA education code. If a family feels that their child is not being offered FAPE at a charter school (or at any public school, for that matter), they must remember that there are very clear steps they should take to secure FAPE for their child and to hold the school accountable.”
Mosko pointed us to a 2017 report by the Office of the Independent Monitor (now closed) indicating that magnets had only 6.51% enrollment of students with disabilities. This number was up from around 4% in previous years. In 2017, charter schools had 11.39% enrollment, up from around 8%, while neighborhood schools had enrollment of 12.67%. The statewide proportion of students with IEPs to all students is 12.85%.
The main takeaway is that if you want school choice for your child, know your rights! “All public schools, be they magnet, charter, or district, are responsible for providing a safe, nurturing, and academically challenging environment for your kid with a disability,” Mosko says.
What to Know About Applications
- For magnets, Dual Language Education, and Schools for Advanced Studies, you may apply for up to three choices for each program during the application window.
- Please note that transportation is only available for students in the Permits With Transportation program, students with IEPs, and foster children.
- Students from outside the district need an interdistrict transfer to attend.
If you’re interested in applying for next year, there are local school visits provided in the fall.
To learn more about the admission process, see the timeline on the Unified Enrollment website.