California School Uses Parent Trigger, District Spreads Rumors

Published February 3, 2015

Parents in Anaheim, California are using the state’s Parent Trigger law to turn a chronically underperforming elementary school into a charter.

In California, parents can implement a trigger if a school remains in one of the lowest rated tiers even after some corrective action has already taken place. If a school fails to improve, as in the case of Palm Lane Elementary, parents can force one of the options granted by the trigger law if more than 50 percent sign a petition stating that. In this case, two-thirds signed on, and the parents submitted the petition on January 14.

The California law gives parents several options, including closing the school or replacing the administration. At Palm Lane, parents went with the restart option, which closes the school and reopens it under a charter operator.

‘Ignored, Intimidated, and Discriminated’

Magdalena Romero was one of the parents who supported activating the trigger.

“We have been ignored, intimidated, and discriminated for years, going to every school meeting, attending board meetings, etc.,” said Romero, who has a sixth grader at Palm Lane. “Now they are listening because of the power of the Parent Trigger law. So let me make it very clear, all we want and have been asking for years is for an education for our kids that will give them the skills and knowledge so they could attend college.

“We want them to have the same opportunities that Palm Lane teachers, the Anaheim City School District board, and superintendent Wagner have. We want our kids to live the American dream,” she added.

The elementary school attempted a turnaround in 2013, bringing in a new principal, Roberto Baeza, who had improved underperforming schools in the past. Although he was popular with parents, the board reassigned Baeza to another school, pushing parents to try another option, according to former Democratic state senator Gloria Romero.

Successful Implementation

California has led the way in Parent Trigger implementation. Desert Trails Elementary was the first to turn its school into a charter, back in 2013. Since then, the percentage of fifth graders scoring proficient or above in science has risen from 12 percent in the 2012-13 school year  to 47 percent the following year, according to Ben Boychuk, a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News.

Romero, who wrote California’s Parent Trigger law in 2010, continues to voice her support for school reform.

“Parents didn’t want their kids in a chronically failing school,” said Romero. “This is an eligible school for transformation. It hasn’t turned around. Parents finally said, we’re not taking it any longer.”

Romero says when she wrote the law she knew that parents would readily use it. “I wrote the law with this type of spirit in mind,” she said. “I wrote it knowing parents would fight for their kids. I did so because education is the civil rights issue of our time.” 

Letters, Robo-Calls, False Claims

Romero said the school board made efforts tried to destroy the reputation of Parent Trigger activists. ACSD Superintendent Linda Wagner issued letters and robo-calls to parents throughout the district, claiming organizers were misleading parents and bribing them with free iPads.

“We had never seen a superintendent actually on a district letterhead send a letter making false claims to parents,” said Romero. “Not only that, they sent out recorded calls to parents warning them not to sign, all based on false information. This is use of district resources, taxpayer dollars, used to dissuade parents.

“We believe that this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Parents will have to take it to the state board of education and demand it enforce its own regulations,” Romero added.

Alfonso Flores, lead organizer of the effort, praised Palm Lane parents’ determination.

“They have kids in sixth grade who can’t read. They have fifth graders who can barely do math. You want the parents to be engaged, but the kids are being sent home with no homework,” Flores said.

“These are working-class families. These parents, they want better for their kids, and the district has just ignored them,” said Flores. “The parents had questions, and nobody was listening. I’m pretty sure they are listening now.”

Chris Neal ([email protected]) writes from New York, New York. 

Image by Todd Binger.