By Gary Walker
Parents with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District seeking to change the dynamics of their school by pulling the so-called “parent trigger” will now find it a bit more challenging following a vote by the district’s Board of Education June 18.
Acting on a resolution by LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, the district will now be required to independently verify signatures and how they are collected. The organization that has been involved in what they and their supporters say has been exercising parental rights under the law, the Parent Revolution, has come under fire from its critics for its methods in assisting parents in taking over schools.
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.
In order to enforce the “parent trigger,” more than 50 percent of parents at a school must sign a petition requesting the change.
Zimmer’s resolution will require evidence of public notice and a summary of information to be presented at a public meeting held in the school community detailing accurate information about the school and the available options for transformation. In addition, a summary of interventions attempted at the school site and an analysis of the success or failure of these attempted interventions must be provided, as well as an analysis of the targeted school’s report card and five years of school data.
“We’re mostly disappointed with the school board’s vote,” said Parent Revolution Deputy Director Gabe Rose, who has accused some school site personnel of “harassing and intimidating” parents seeking to organize and draft petitions to utilize the parental law.
“It’s unfortunate that LAUSD said ‘no’ to protecting parents and their rights,” he said.
Karen Wolfe, a Venice parent whose children attend Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, said the most critical part of the resolution is the inclusion of a public transparent process.
“Just as a restaurant owner engages the neighbors in a public process when he/she intensifies its use by selling beer and wine or extending business hours, or a real estate developer posts public notices about a project that will impact the community, so too should a school that serves the community provide an open, reliable, transparent process,” she said.
“We support public meetings and public notice of school data – whether in relation to Parent Trigger campaigns or otherwise – that give LAUSD parents more information on the state of their children’s schools,” Rose said.
The state Board of Education announced new regulations July 13, 2011 on parental power pertaining to school choice and clarified guidelines for those seeking to use the parent trigger.
Eligible schools include schools that 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.
Wolfe said she does not believe the Parent Empowerment Act has not been used for parents’ or schools’ benefit.
“It has been about moving power from LAUSD and (the United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s teacher union) to the Parent Revolution,” she asserted.
At the board meeting, parents at 24th Street and Weigant Avenue Elementary schools testified that organizers from the Parent Revolution lied to them in order to obtain their signatures.
In the past, UTLA authorities and members of the Parent Revolution have traded insults and accusations about how signatures are gathered at certain schools.
During his tenure, outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was an outspoken proponent of the Parent Empowerment Law.
“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,” Villaraigosa said after the state guidelines were announced two years ago.
Zimmer, who represents Westchester, Venice, Del Rey and Mar Vista schools, could not be reached for comment. But in a previous interview, he stated that while he believes strongly in parental choice, he has one major disagreement with 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.
The school board member was referring to the actions of parents who do not have children in a particular school but seek to take over or “turn around” that school, a charge that has been leveled at the Parent Revolution.
Rose said his organization will continue to assist parents who wish take to advantage of the Parent Empowerment Act at their schools.
‘Parent trigger’ law faces new guidelines following LAUSD board vote
By Gary Walker