A ruling in a San Bernardino County court is another victory for education reform in an ongoing battle to give parents in California the power to fix failing schools.
Earlier this year, the parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto organized to use the two-year-old Parent Empowerment Act, known familiarly as the parent trigger. That’s the state law passed by the California Legislature in 2010 that allows parents to seek changes at their local school if it is one the state’s worst schools.
Those changes range from the modest – replacing the school’s leadership – to the medium – having a charter school operator take over – to the major – shutting it down. It’s up to the parents to decide which remedy will work best for their kids’ school.
Parent trigger seemed like a simple concept: A majority of parents sign a petition asking for reforms at their school, and they present it to the school district, which verifies the signatures. Then, if the petitions are in order, the requests are carried out.
In practice, however, it has become a complicated, political process pitting parents against teachers, school board members and the well-funded state teachers unions. Compton parents were the first to try the parent trigger at an academically failing middle school, but they did so before the final regulations were passed and lost their bid because they mishandled the process. In Adelanto, parents followed the rules but found their request thrown out anyway.
One of the most insidious ways of obstructing parent trigger is through a campaign to pressure parents to revoke their signatures on the original petition. That’s what happened in Adelanto, where it resulted in enough parents revoking their signatures that the petition had fewer than the required majority of parents. The school board rejected the parents’ petition, and the case went to court.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled in favor of parents. He said the district shouldn’t be in the business of invalidating petitions, just verifying the signatures. Further, the parent trigger law doesn’t even allow recisions, he said.
The decision puts the reform of Desert Trails back on track and gives hope to parents at failing schools across California. The success – or failure – of Desert Trails’ reform could well inspire – or discourage – parents at other failing schools.
This fight isn’t over for the parents of Desert Trails. School board members said they will appeal the ruling. If the school board hadn’t already made clear its contempt for the public in its earlier action, the decision to use public money to fight the public’s will ought to do it.