A judge ruled in favor of parents hoping to take over the low-performing Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California, under the state’s Parent Trigger law.
“Overall, it’s a landmark ruling,” said Gloria Romero, head of California’s Democrats for Education Reform and author of the law. “It’s a new day in California, and it’s one that upholds the rights of parents to truly become the architects of their children’s educational futures.”
Under the law, parents can take over an underperforming school if at least 51 percent sign a petition and bring it to the school board. After enough parents signed a petition to convert Desert Trails to a charter school, some rescinded their signatures after a teachers union campaign, said Heartland Institute Policy Adviser Ben Boychuk. This dropped the total below the 50 percent line, the board argued, and it rejected the petition.
Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled that, according to the law, signatures cannot be rescinded and the district must accept the petition for consideration.
What Happens Next
The school board has 30 days to vote whether to allow the parents to take over the school, Romero said. It met Wednesday, but decided not to decide the matter then. If the board votes the takeover down, it must cite reasons.
“They may be searching for ways to vote no. To me, that is disingenuous though. I think it’s a real stretch for them to concoct a reason to vote no,” she said.
Parents meet to decide the future of the school on Friday. They must choose whether to hire an outside charter school operator, demand the district make certain staff and curriculum changes, or leave the school as it was, Romero said.
Boychuck watched parents bring their petition to the board.
“There were all these shenanigans with discounting signatures,” he said. “There was a lot of disappointment, and they needed a win, and now we’ve got sort of a win.”
Families Engage Education
The decision allows parents to take a more active role in their children’s education, said RiShawn Biddle, Dropout Nation editor and a contributor to the American Spectator.
“We talk about school choice being very important, but a lot of times the way we talk about school choice is walking away, basically escaping a school,” he said. “People want to have high quality school options within their own neighborhood.”
Teachers unions’ opposition to the ruling comes as no surprise, he said.
“The culture within education is one in which parents are there basically to [help with] homework and staff field trips, and that’s not necessarily what parents want to do,” he said. “For parents to be engaged in education, they must actually have power to shape what their kids learn and how their kids learn and the environment where their kids learn. They have to have a leading role in education.”
Test for Parent Power
The Parent Trigger law changes the relationship between families and school districts, he said.
“[School districts] up to this point have been able to ignore almost all parents, except those with enough money and enough political clout to demand what they want. This is particularly for poor families who really don’t have a lot of clout in education,” he said. “It gives them a level playing field where there hasn’t been any.”
The ruling is important historically, Boychuck said, and may set a precedent across the country.
“The trigger concept is sound, but it’s untested. Now with Adelanto, we’ll have a test case,” he said. “It should give [parents and organizers] a model of what to do and not do. A lot of this is really uncharted territory, and these parents are not professional activists or community organizers. They’re just parents, and they have real jobs and they have to take care of their kids.”