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Education

Parent Trigger Showdown in Compton Gets Increasingly Heavy; Jerry Brown, Kamala Harris, and Barack Obama M.I.A.?

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Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 12:23 PM

click to enlarge Governor Jerry Brown
  • Governor Jerry Brown
Update: Former state Sen. Gloria Romero accuses Compton Unified of strong-arming parents to stop charter school. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and another huge law firm join Parent Trigger effort pro bono.

Things get increasingly heavy in Compton today when the McKinley Parents for Change and the Parent Revolution hold a press conference at 11 a.m. and denounce Compton Unified School District's highly questionable process for verifying a Parent Trigger petition.

Compton Unified officials are playing hard ball with parents who lawfully and successfully carried out a petition drive to take control of the chronically failing McKinley Elementary School, trying to force parents -- some of whom may have deportation concerns -- to meet with district authorities face to face so they can verify the parents' signatures.

As L.A. Weekly reported last week, many parents have no intention of being strong-armed in such a way.

The press conference takes took place at the Church of the Redeemer in Los Angeles, where parents and Parent Trigger organizers will discuss how Compton Unified officials plan to throw out any signatures that can't be verified through the in-person meetings.

The Parent Trigger is a state law that allows parents to petition a public school district and demand changes for a chronically failing school if they can gather signatures from 51 percent of the parents whose children attend that school.

In Compton, parents and organizers with a Los Angeles-based education reform group called Parent Revolution collected 60 percent of the necessary signatures. They are seeking to establish a charter school at McKinley Elementary.

Compton Unified, which is led by board president Satra D. Zurita, vice-president Margie Garrett, and acting superintendent Karen Frison, has been in possession of the petition since December 7, but only now appears to be trying to verify the signatures.

The Parent Trigger in Compton -- the first place in the country where such a parental take over has happened -- continues to make national headlines, with many education reform advocates, teachers' unions, and politicians watching how things play out.

President Barack Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan backed the Parent Trigger effort in Compton, but as things have gotten more and more tense, the feds have been publicly missing in action .... despite the fact that Compton parents have filed complaints with the feds.

Governor Jerry Brown has also been nowhere to be found, although Compton Unified officials are undertaking questionable tactics that could undermine a state law.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been absent, too.

Since state and federal politicians seem unwilling to ensure that Compton Unified authorities abide by the law, maybe former President Jimmy Carter, who's been known to observe democratic elections in various parts of the world, needs to come into town and play sheriff.

The Weekly will cover today's press conference, with an update to come.

Update: Gloria Romero at the press conference claimed that Compton School officials have created special new rules making it far harder to verify the signatures on a Parent Trigger petition than it is to prove you're eligible to vote for president of the United States.

Romero joined six Compton Latino and black mothers all attacking Compton Unified School District for scheming to raise dramatic new barriers against parents who are trying to take over failing McKinley Elementary School.

Without naming them, the slams were clearly directed at Acting Superintendent Karen Frison and the School Board President Satra Zurita.

Romero declared: "It's not about verification! It is purely about disenfranchisement."

Theresa Theus, a black mother seeking to help fellow parents take over the extremely poor-performing Compton school and turn it into a charter school, said, "I'm very angry, upset and frustrated. I don't know what kind of trick this is."

Lorena Bautista, a Latino mother, added, "What the district is doing is very wrong. They're violating our rights. We've already signed the petition, and that's it."

Romero warned that Governor Brown and the state Board of Education should "honor the spirit and intent of the law."

But that could be a tall order. Brown's controversial, newly appointed state board members replaced several outspoken reformers who were top backers of charter schools.

It's unknown whether Brown's significantly safer bunch of school board members will have the independence to stand up to huge and wealthy unions, including the California Teachers Association, who oppose the Parent Trigger law and are fighting the spread of charter schools.

Brown's new California Board of Education is expected by many political observers to make it much harder, via fresh new state regulations, for parents to use the new Parent Trigger law authored by Romero.

Austin, the leader of Parent Revolution, vowed to take the battle "all the way to the Supreme Court" and verified that two powerful law firms have already agreed to fight Compton Unified -- pro bono -- on behalf of Parent Revolution and McKinley Parents for Change.

The law firms are Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (representing only Parent Revolution as of now) and Kirkland & Ellis, both political powerhouses who represent some of the top firms, civic figures and non-profit groups in the nation.

McKinley Parents for Change, a parent group that arose late last year, after the Parent Trigger effort had gathered enough signatures to take over McKinley, is demanding that the signatures gathered in 2010 be honored.

Parent Revolution organizing director Pat DeTemple today accused Compton school leaders of having "thrown out the law and come up with their own law" -- a position that could soon be presented to Compton officials in a more official and significantly more costly format -- from lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Kirkland & Ellis.

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