California Educator

March 2015

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Anaheim school board rejects 'parent trigger' petition t a packed meeting Feb. 19, the Anaheim City School District Board of Education rejected an attempt to use California's "parent trigger" law to shut down Palm Lane Elementary School and reopen it under yet-to-be-deter- mined charter management. The board said that after signature verification, petitioners fell short of 50 percent of parents; peti- tions failed to include all information required by law; and the school wasn't even eligible to be targeted, because the state last year suspended standardized tests needed to ascertain if the school made adequate yearly progress. T H E L A W A L L O W S A P E T I T I O N signed by a majority of par- ents at a qualifying underperforming school to impose one of five reform models on the school, which include replac- ing the principal, turning the school over to outside charter management, and closing the school altogether. CTA Board member Kendall Vaught sounded the alarm for other area chapter presidents when parent trigger organizers first came to Anaheim. She urges chapters with trigger-qualifying schools to get active. "It's really important for schools to be constantly strengthening those parent relationships. By the time organizers show up with clipboards and petitions, it's going to be a much more difficult struggle." While lawmakers may have seen the parent trigger as a grassroots tool for parents, it has proved to be anything but that, and is sometimes referred to as "AstroTurf" reform. The people who created the law, former Senator Gloria Romero and the Los Angeles-based group Parent Revolution, have spearheaded every parent trigger effort so far and have used paid organizers to get parents to sign petitions. Palm Lane is the fifth California school to have petitions submitted under the law. The first trigger target, McKin- ley Elementary in Compton, was a CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) school that had shown dramatic test score gains since entering the program. That trigger attempt was ultimately tossed out in court over faulty petitions and bad signatures. Perhaps the most telling example is in the outcome of the nation's first successful attempt, at Desert Trails Ele- mentary School in Adelanto. After a bitter battle that ended when a San Bernardino judge ruled that parents could not rescind their signatures after the petition was submitted, the school was turned over to a local charter operator. The new school was sold to parents with promises of programs and improvements that it has so far been unable to deliver. During the school's first year, most of the staff either quit or were not renewed, and an investigative piece by the website Capital & Main revealed allegations of discrimination against special education students and efforts to artificially raise test scores. Since that exposé appeared, the school hired a public relations consultant tied to Parent Revolution. Concerns CTA expressed since the law was introduced have been validated in each trigger attempt. When the Anaheim Elementary Education Association began holding a series of parent education meetings in response to the trigger, they heard from parents who had been misled by petition circulators, who didn't understand what they were signing, or who had not been asked to sign and only be- came aware of what had happened when they read about it in the newspaper. Others asked why the law didn't require all parents be notified, and why there were no open forums to hear all sides of the issue. Some said they had been promised more technology and more programs at the new school, a difficult promise to make since no new school operator had yet been selected. Trigger promoters tried to mischaracterize those meetings, the first where parents actually got accurate information about the law, as "union propaganda." The concerns and complaints about the law came from the parents themselves. "The parents we heard from were deeply concerned that this trigger process was incredibly flawed and misleading," says AEEA President Kristen Fisher. "And most were ex- tremely supportive of Palm Lane and its staff." Despite repeated examples of the flaws of the parent trigger concept, laws similar to California's have now popped up in other states. And Anaheim's petition denial is probably not the end of the trigger effort for Palm Lane. Un- der the law, petitioners have 60 days to correct deficiencies in the petition and cross the 50 percent threshold. Issues related to the school's eligibility may wind up in court. In the meantime, AEEA has vowed to continue to help parents and the community get accurate information about the parent trigger and its ramifications. A By Frank Wells Advocacy Education policy 33 V O L U M E 1 9 I S S U E 7

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