The Blog

Parent trigger misfires, again

The Adelanto Elementary School District Board of Trustees boldly stood up for students and the rights of all parents in the school community by rejecting an attempt led mainly by a group of outside organizers to shut down an elementary school, replace the entire staff, and create a privately managed charter school.

The trustees recognized that Parent Revolution organizers at Desert Trails Elementary School had failed to meet the simple majority threshold required by the state's so-called "parent trigger" law because many parents who initially signed the petition now wanted their names removed amid allegations of misrepresentation and harassment by some signature gatherers.

The Adelanto School Board meeting drew some heavy-hitter outsiders to the district, including parent trigger author and former state senator Gloria Romero. Acknowledging she had never been to Adelanto before, she urged the board to send a national message and approve the trigger petition. One board member respectfully reminded her that their role was not to send political messages, but to follow the law and do what is best for Adelanto students. The final vote was 5-0 against the petition.

The California Teachers Association opposed the parent trigger law when it was proposed for a number of reasons, none of which included any desire to exclude meaningful parent participation in struggling schools. On the contrary, educators welcome parent involvement and we know that students perform best when parents take an active role in their progress and in their school. Our concerns about the trigger law were borne out of the lack of concrete regulations and procedures, which has played out in both failed attempts in Adelanto and Compton, where irregularities on the petitions and public charges and counter-charges of bad behavior were rampant.

One of the law's fatal flaws is the petition gathering process. Under the parent trigger law, there is no requirement for any kind of informed discussion, for open meetings, for an opportunity to hear all options or another side, or even any practical way to monitor what signature gatherers actually say. Once the majority signature threshold is met, that's it. Parents who don't sign the petition are excluded from crucial further decisions about the school, including if and which management company will take over.

So it's no wonder that many Desert Trails parents asked to rescind their signatures once they learned that their school would lose its staff or that it would become a charter school run by as yet unnamed operators. Many said they had been told the petition was simply to make general improvements or to bring new money to the site. Others said they felt harassed into signing, width relentless home visits often occurring late into the night. More than one parent said, "I signed it so they would just go away."

Despite another embarrassing failure, Parent Revolution is threatening legal action, and continuing to blame the union, the district, the "entrenched status quo" instead of taking an honest look at their own practice of coming in width paid organizers and needlessly confusing and dividing a struggling school's well-meaning parents and community.

At Desert Trails, a school that has struggled to raise scores, Parent Revolution never stopped to ask the basic question, "Why?" They overlooked many contributing factors, including the fact that the school has a devastating student transiency rate. Since the beginning of this school year more than 140 students have enrolled and already left. They didn't talk about budget cuts that have increased class sizes and left students width less one-on-one attention. They ignored recent changes put into place by new school leadership that have started to improve student learning. Instead, their only solution was to point fingers and cast blame.

CTA believes that to help schools that need it, all reform options should be on the table and that parents must play an integral role.

Our local chapter, the Adelanto District Teacher Association, is moving ahead in partnership width the school district and parents to enact proven reforms at Desert Trails and other district schools. But Parent Revolution is still burdening the district width costly legal action despite evidence that their plan does not have majority support. They're going to give parents reform whether they want it or not.

California students, parents, and school communities deserve better than this deeply flawed law and the questionable tactics of a group that is more interested in making national headlines than in helping students. Unless parents are fully informed and involved in a transparent and inclusive reform process, California's parent trigger will continue to miss the target.

This Op-Ed was recently published in the San Bernardino Sun

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