By Frank Wells
Parents felt misled by Parent Revolution’s tactics.
Attempts to invoke California’s controversial “parent trigger” law for the second time have again resulted in chaos, this time in the small High Desert community of Adelanto. The law, which allows parents at an underperforming school to impose one of five reform options if they can get a majority to sign a petition, has again divided a school amid allegations of petition organizer misrepresentation and harassment.
At the center of the controversy at Desert Trails Elementary School is Parent Revolution, the well-funded Los Angeles-based education reform group that was deeply involved in last year’s failed trigger attempt at McKinley Elementary School in Compton. Parent Revolution was invited by an ousted former Desert Trails principal to Adelanto, where it helped a small group of parents with concerns about the struggling school form a “parent union” to leverage a list of demands for things like local parent control over hiring and firing staff. While parents were circulating that petition of demands, the same parents and Parent Revolution also circulated a parent trigger petition that would turn the school into an independent charter run by an as-yet-unnamed entity.
On Jan. 12, those parents submitted charter takeover petitions that they said represented 70 percent of the school. Almost immediately, parents who disagreed with the petition or who had not been asked to sign began to organize and, working with the Adelanto District Teachers Association, began to have conversations and meetings with parents who had signed. Although state regulations passed last summer were an attempt to avoid another debacle like Parent Revolution’s Compton attempt, some of the same problems soon surfaced: Some parents had been misled, others had been harassed, many didn’t realize they were asking to replace the staff or convert to a charter, and the fact that a second petition of demands was also circulated only further confused and complicated things. Parents of nearly 100 students asked to rescind their signatures.
On Feb. 21, the Adelanto School District Board of Trustees rejected the trigger attempt, citing the large number of rescissions and an even greater number of bad signatures on the submitted petitions. Parent Revolution countered a week later with a news conference in which it alleged fraud in the rescission effort and implied that CTA was somehow behind it. These allegations are completely false. As the petition effort began to unravel, Parent Revolution continued making false charges that CTA was running a rescission campaign, even making up stories about “cadres of CTA operatives” being flown into Adelanto from Sacramento.
Petition backers have additional time to correct problems on their petitions, and it will be up to the school board to determine if they have met the legal threshold and how to proceed from there. But regardless of the outcome, this second attempt to pull the parent trigger spotlights what a divisive law it is and how, instead of helping parents implement reform at a struggling school, it pits them against each other in a sometimes bitter battle that is more like a political campaign than a step forward for the school. In both places it’s been tried, the parent trigger law has had awful consequences for the involved communities. Let’s hope lawmakers learn from their mistake.