California School District Rejects Parent Trigger Petition

Published February 24, 2012

Adelanto, California school district officials rejected a petition by parents to convert Desert Trails Elementary School into an independent charter under the nation’s inaugural Parent Trigger law.

The Adelanto Elementary School District board voted 5-0 in late February to deny the parents’ petition, which district Superintendent Darin Brawley said fell 16 signatures short of the 50 percent threshold required by the state’s Parent Empowerment Act.

Members of the Desert Trails Parent Union in January submitted 466 parent signatures, representing 70 percent of the 665 students enrolled in the school. District officials claimed 97 signatures were invalid or had been rescinded by parents.

Desert Trails is one of the worst-performing elementary schools in San Bernardino County and currently ranks in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state. Parents at the school had for months attempted to work with district officials to implement changes at the school, which has been on the state’s “program improvement” list for six years.

Teachers Union Opposed
Petition supporters claimed the local Adelanto teachers union and activists from the California Teachers Association (CTA) tried to pressure parents into withdrawing their signatures.

Union members circulated fliers claiming the entire staff of Desert Trails, including the principal and teachers, would be replaced if the parents’ petition succeeded.

Desert Trails Parent Union members denied the teachers union’s claims.

“CTA is trying to disrupt the efforts of parents in order to distract from the fact that they have no argument to defend the status quo at Desert Trails,” said Melody Medrano, a member of the Desert Trails Parent Union steering committee, in a written statement. “Desert Trails is the worst school in the district, and it has been failing our children for years. Instead of productive solutions, we get harassment and intimidation.”

‘Misleading Tactics Prevail’
“The more they employ these despicable tactics, the more they make our argument for us better than we ever could about why parents must have power,” Medrano added. “It’s a sad day when lies and misleading tactics prevail over the needs of children, but we know that this decision will not stand for long.”

State regulations forbid harassment, intimidation, and misinformation in signature gathering, but do not spell out penalties or any means of recourse for such cases.

Linda Serrato, communications director for Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based activist group that helped parents organize in Adelanto, said the parents may go to court to challenge the district’s decision.

‘Human Error’
Gloria Romero, the former state senator who authored California’s parent empowerment law in late 2009, said she commended Adelanto’s parents for “using the law as a vehicle for change” and was “deeply disappointed” with the district’s decision to deny the petition. 

But Romero criticized Parent Revolution’s strategy.

“The problem isn’t a flaw with the law,” Romero said, “but a flaw with the organization. This was human error, not an error in the law.”

In particular, Romero said presenting Adelanto parents with two petitions to sign was needlessly confusing and only aided those opposing the effort. One petition sought in-district autonomy for the school. The second petition, which parents ultimately submitted, would have implemented the independent charter school option.

Romero also said several of the parents’ goals, including changes in the curriculum and textbooks, could not be reached through in-district reforms.

“You cannot negotiate for something the district cannot do,” Romero said. “That’s not negotiating in good faith.”

60 Days to Fix
The district’s rejection of the petition is not the end of the line for Adelanto parents. Under regulations approved last year by the California State Board of Education, parents have 60 days to submit corrected petitions for reconsideration.

Serrato says her group hopes many of the parents who rescinded their signatures will have second thoughts.

“It’s a small, tight-knit community,” Serrato said. “They’ll go back, talk to the parents who withdrew their signatures, and try to find out what happened.”


Image by Joe Mabel.