The state Board of Education announced new regulations July 13 on parental power pertaining to school choice and clarified guidelines for the so-called “parent trigger.”

The Parent Empowerment Law, which took effect April 12, 2010, allows parents of students in certain persistently low-achieving schools to petition local school districts to implement specified reforms in the school, which could include closure of the institution or the takeover by a charter organization.

“(The) unanimous vote is a very satisfying conclusion to this long process,” said Board President Michael Kirst. “I want to thank all of the parties who contributed their time and thoughtful comments. It’s hard to make policy decisions that please everyone, but by bringing people together and airing the issues thoroughly, we’ve been able to make well-informed decisions about these regulations.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a proponent of the parent trigger, praised the new regulations shortly after they were released.

“Since day one, I have supported the parent trigger as a grassroots effort that brings communities together in support of strong schools,” he said. “This law empowers parents and gives them a voice and a vote to demand better.”

In order to pull the “parent trigger,” more than 50 percent of parents at a school must sign a petition requesting the change.

The new guidelines specify what criteria are mandated for a school “turnaround,” which would include replacing the principal and replacing at least half of the school’s staff.

The July 13 regulations state that schools that are subject for turnarounds must meet the following criteria:

They are not one of the persistently lowest-achieving schools identified by the state Board of Education; have been in corrective action pursuant to paragraph (7) of Section 1116(b) of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act for at least one full academic year; have failed to make adequate yearly progress; and have an Academic Performance Index (API) score of less than 800.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer said parents at schools in his district would face interesting choices with the new guidelines.

“I think the most important factor for schools in District 4 is which parents will be able to trigger this action, and that is a very complicated and difficult question to wrestle with,” said Zimmer, who represents Westchester, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Venice and Marina del Rey.

The parent empowerment law has gotten off to a rocky start. The Parent Revolution, a nonprofit school reform organization that has members from Venice and Mar Vista and has ties to Green Dot Public Schools, assisted a group of parents in Compton Dec. 7 in the first attempt to use the new law.

After hearing from parents who both support and oppose the move to change McKinley Elementary School to a charter, the state Board of Education asked the state attorney general to open an investigation into the events surrounding the use of the controversial law last year.

“Today, the parents and children of California won an historic and hard-fought victory at the state Board of Education over parent trigger implementing regulations,” the organization said in a statement. “These regulations operationalize parent trigger as a true right for every parent in California, and they make it virtually impossible for recalcitrant district bureaucracies like Compton Unified to abuse the ambiguity in the law in order to defend an indefensible status quo.”

The new rules also clarify how a petition can be submitted and how the signatures are verified, as well as include the names of any agencies or organizations that are supporting the petition, either through direct financial assistance or in-kind contributions of staff and volunteer support. These organizations must be prominently displayed on the front page of the petition.

While there are seven schools in District 4 that are eligible for the parent trigger, Zimmer feels that because of very strong parental involvement at most, if not all of the schools on the list, it would not be easy to close down or convert these schools to a charter.

“Nobody likes a hostile takeover,” the school board member said. “We have to correct any imbalances without creating an imbalance.”

Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, indicated that he would like to see the parent trigger utilized statewide.

“I hope to see more parents throughout Los Angeles and California take action to set higher standards for our students and achieve better results for our neighborhood schools,” he said.

Braddock Drive and Stoner Avenue elementary schools and Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester, Grand View Elementary and Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista and Venice High School are among the 1,300 schools that are currently eligible for use of the parent trigger.

Zimmer said while he supports parental choice, he remains steadfast in his belief that parents who do not have children in a particular school should not be able to take over or “turn around” that school, a charge that has been leveled at the Parent Revolution.

“My line in the sand has always been, and where I disagree with the Parent Revolution is that there is a big difference between parents who are matriculating to a school and parents who already have children who are enrolled in that same school,” he asserted.

Parent Revolution, Deputy Director Gabe Rose did not return calls for comment as of press time.

The last day for public comment on the new rules is Saturday, July 23. If new substantive public comments are received by then, the regulations will be sent to the Office of Administrative Law for final approval.