California Judge Rules in Favor of Families in Parent Trigger Case

Published August 17, 2015

An Orange County, California Superior Court judge ruled Palm Lane Elementary School could become a charter school after the court validated a petition parents filed under the state’s parent trigger law.  

The July ruling came after the Anaheim City School District (ACSD) board had refused to accept the petition from parents. Since the court’s decision, ACSD has voted to appeal the ruling.

Under the state’s parent trigger law, a school must undergo reform if a majority of students’ parents sign a petition requesting a specific change, such as converting the school into a charter school or changing the administration. Schools that have been determined to be low-performing for several consecutive years are eligible for the parent trigger option, which originated in California in 2010 and has spread to six other states. Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas have enacted similar laws.

Parents Forcing Reform

E. Vance Randall, professor of education policy at Brigham Young University, says parent trigger laws are valuable because they give parents a way to reform broken local schools unwilling to change on their own.

“It provides a possible way for parents whose children are stuck in persistently failing schools to improve the quality of education for their children,” said Randall. “Public education has failed these parents and their children over and over again. Public education officials in these particular locales should lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

Randall says the school board’s intense scrutiny of the list of parent signatures is typical and a common problem facing school reform advocates across the nation.

 “It is not surprising at all,” Randall said. “A district should examine the list of parent signatures to see that they are valid, but in many cases the district is simply trying to find any possible reason to reduce the number of valid signatures. They will usually throw up any roadblock or excuse in order to derail this parent initiative. Why? Because jobs, funding, and power are at stake, and these things seem to be more important to some district officials than providing a quality education for children trapped in persistently failing schools that are failing to provide a quality education for these children.”

Patrick Wolf, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, says it is ironic school officials are fighting so hard to stop the parent trigger process.

“The defenders of the traditional public school system often claim that it is superior to choice-based systems for delivering education, because the public school system is more responsive to citizens,” said Wolf. “Isn’t it strange that when citizens actually try to influence the public school system, through the parent trigger process, the supposedly democratic traditional public school system decries and seeks to undermine their efforts? I think the main moral of the story is that we can’t expect the educational establishment to voluntarily share power with parents. Parents have to seize it.”

‘Very Empowering and Uplifting’

Mehul Patel, communications manager for Parent Revolution, says the Palm Lane decision is an encouraging sign for parents across the state.

The Palm Lane decision is very empowering and uplifting for all parents in California,” Patel said. “The judge’s decision to side with parents shows that justice can be on the right side.

“Citing the lack of achievement data, the opposition attempted to halt the use of the parent trigger law, in which parents exercised a right they have in California,” Patel said. “This decision puts parents that have children trapped in chronically low-performing schools at the center of the educational debate … [It also makes] the conversation about school performance and how parents have the right to intervene when they know their child’s school is low-performing.”

‘Powerful’ Negotiating Tool

Some groups of parents have been able to force the changes they want to take place at their children’s schools simply by stating they will use the parent trigger, Patel says.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the parent trigger law is that parents can use it as a negotiating tool,” said Patel. “It gives parents the opportunity to tip the scales of power in their favor. In California, Parent Revolution has worked with three specific schools where parents collected signatures, and the district brought them to the table to negotiate specific goals and demands that the parents had.”

“This is the only political lever­age that parents have left to get the kind of changes that are needed to provide a quality education,” said Randall. “Remember that education is inherently political, and when school boards do not adequately represent the needs of parents and children, what recourse do these parents have? Parent trigger laws give parents a tool to help bring about needed change when the education system, with its political dynamics, fails.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Joe Gratz.

Internet Info

Rebecca Khell, “Judge sides with parents’ efforts to make Anaheim’s Palm Lane a charter school,” Orange County Register, July 18, 2015:

Alice Salles, “School district votes to appeal court decision upholding parent trigger law on taxpayer dime,”, Aug. 4 2015: