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“Parent Trigger” Laws Being Tested by Parents Fed Up with Failing Schools

ADELANTO, CA – A group of parents failed in their attempt to become the first in the nation to take control of a public school using the controversial “parent trigger” law. The California law is designed to shake up chronically failing schools.

After a heated four-hour meeting, the board of the Adelanto School District in California’s Mojave Desert voted unanimously to  reject the parent’s petition that invoked a 2010 state law that permits parents to essentially seize control of low-performing schools. Proponents, however, were not deterred and vowed to challenge the board’s action in court.

Such “trigger” laws are not isolated to California. After a fierce debate, Florida legislators narrowly defeated a parent trigger bill earlier this month, and several other states, including Louisiana, New York, and Michigan may tackle similar bills this year. Such laws are opposed nationally by teacher’s unions.

“The nation is watching this evening. California is watching,” said former California State Senator Gloria Romero, who co-sponsored the legislation.

Wednesday’s meeting was the second time the Adelanto board denied a petition submitted by families seeking a takeover, finding they fell short in collecting valid signatures from parents representing at least half of the 642 students at Desert Trails Elementary.

The petition drive has been marked by heated debate as the two sides accused each other of fraud in trying to meet the 50-percent threshold or in presenting rescission affidavits from parents who claimed they were misled into initially giving their support. “I could care less if I don’t get elected to office again, but today I stand for all of Adelanto in saying we will not be duped by anybody,” school board member Jermaine Wright said in explaining her vote against the petition.

But even with a second rejection, the debate in Adelanto, a community of about 31,000 people made up predominantly of low-income minorities,  is far from over. Patrick DeTemple, the organizing director of Parent Revolution, insists supporters had collected valid signatures from “a solid 70 percent of the parents”. As a result, the group will challenge the board in court.

The dispute has pitted parents ready to take drastic action to reshape management of their school against parents who fear untested changes promised under the “trigger” measure would only make matters worse.  “Our children are much too precious to turn them over to groups that have no track record of proven success,” said Lanita Dominque, a teacher and president of the Adelanto District Teachers Association.

Petition supporters point to years of chronically poor academic performance at the school, where more than half of the students fail standardized state tests in math or reading. To them, the matters could not be worse and would surely be better if they ran the school themselves.

Takeover advocates have called for converting Desert Trails into a charter school in the fall, allowing them to hire non-union teachers or renegotiate the union contract. They have said they would like the charter to be run by a coalition of parents, teachers and district administrators, rather than by a private charter school management company.

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