District Must Accept Parent Trigger Petition, California Judge Rules

Published July 27, 2012

A judge has ruled in favor of parents hoping to take over low-performing Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California under the state’s Parent Trigger law.

“Overall, it’s a landmark ruling,” said Gloria Romero, head of California’s Democrats for Education Reform and the law’s author. “It’s a new day in California, and it’s one that upholds the rights of parents to truly become the architects of their children’s educational futures.”

The law lets parents take over an underperforming school if at least 51 percent sign a petition and bring it to their school board. Though enough parents signed a petition to convert Desert Trails to a charter school, some rescinded their signatures after a teachers union campaign, said Heartland Institute Policy Advisor Ben Boychuk. This dropped the total below the 50 percent line, the board argued, and it rejected the petition.

Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled that, according to the law, signatures cannot be rescinded and the district must accept the petition.

What Happens Next
The school board has 30 days from the July 23 ruling to vote on whether to approve the petition, Romero said. If the board votes the takeover down, it must cite reasons. It met July 25, but decided not to decide the matter then.

“They may be searching for ways to vote no. I think it’s a real stretch for them to concoct a reason to vote no,” Romero said.

Parents met to decide the school’s future on July 27. They already petitioned to convert it to a charter school, among the three options the law allows, and now must choose which to hire, Romero said. They released an eight-page letter of guidelines for potential school operators.

“All proposals are encouraged,” said Doreen Diaz, Desert Trails Parent Union coordinator, in a statement. Their goal, she said, is to have the converted school running for fall 2013.

The law also allows parents to petition for their school to close or have the principal and most staff replaced.

Boychuk watched parents bring their petition to the board.

“There were all these shenanigans with discounting signatures,” he said. “There was a lot of disappointment, and they needed a win, and now we’ve got sort of a win.”

Families Engage Education
The decision allows parents to take a more active role in their children’s education, said RiShawn Biddle, Dropout Nation editor and a contributor to the American Spectator.

“We talk about school choice being very important, but a lot of times the way we talk about school choice is walking away, basically escaping a school,” he said. “People want to have high quality school options within their own neighborhood.”

Teachers unions’ opposition to the ruling comes as no surprise, he said.

“The culture within education is one in which parents are there basically to [help with] homework and staff field trips, and that’s not necessarily what parents want,” he said. “For parents to be engaged in education, they must actually have power to shape what their kids learn and how their kids learn and the environment where their kids learn. They have to have a leading role in education.”

Test of Parent Power
The Parent Trigger law changes the relationship between families and school districts, Biddle said.

“[School districts] up to this point have been able to ignore almost all parents, except those with enough money and enough political clout to demand what they want. This is particularly for poor families who really don’t have a lot of clout in education,” he said. “It gives them a level playing field where there hasn’t been any.”

The ruling is important historically, Boychuk said, and may set a precedent across the country.

“The trigger concept is sound, but it’s untested. Now with Adelanto, we’ll have a test case,” he said. “It should give [parents and organizers] a model of what to do and not do. A lot of this is really uncharted territory, and these parents are not professional activists or community organizers. They’re just parents, and they have real jobs and they have to take care of their kids.”


Image by the Knight Foundation.