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Education

At Last: 'Parent Trigger' Troop Files Lawsuit Against Compton Unified School District

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Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 1:20 PM

click to enlarge Things just got real in Compton - PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • Things just got real in Compton
Updated after the jump: Judge grants parents a restraining order against the Compton school district!

Right after two big NorCal and SoCal newspapers released battling editorials on California's extreme "Parent Trigger" law -- the LA Times saying abolish it and the Sacramento Bee saying preserve it, at all costs -- the very first group of parents to use the law, at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, is now taking it to the L.A. Superior Court so a judge can decide.

Finally, the flurry of accusations and hearsay can unfold, all fancy and proper-like, in an official house of law, where lawyers can do the arguing instead of clueless Compton Unified School District officials and random charter-school proponents.

An excerpt from the lawsuit, filed by a group of McKinley parents (backed by pro bono lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis) against the district:

"Plaintiff students ("Plaintiff students") at McKinley Elementary School in the Compton Unified School District ("CUSD" or "District"), have been denied the basic educational opportunity granted them by the California Constitution. That constitutional guarantee means that the state must ensure that Plaintiff Students have equal access to a public education system that will teach them the skills they need to succeed as productive members of modern society. The constitution thus forbids the state, through its subordinate entities such as a local school district, from providing public education that falls fundamentally below prevailing statewide standards. CUSD and the CUSD Superintendent ("Defendants") in this case have failed to uphold their constitutional duty."

This lawsuit was inevitable, and will be key in determining the final wording of the law's regulations, which have yet to be passed by Governor Jerry Brown's new, more skeptical California Board of Education.

It'll likewise set a precedent for all future Parent Trigger petitions filed at failing public schools across California.

The Compton clan turned in their petition, which used over 50 percent of parents' signatures to demand that the district give up McKinley, on December 7, 2010. Since then, they've complained of an array of shady practices by district and school officials. McKinley's PTA fired back with accusations that the signatures had been gathered under false pretenses.

On January 8, two "Parent Trigger" signers filed complaints to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights of "lies and intimidation" by McKinley staff, in response to their Parent Trigger petition, which would turn McKinley into a charter school run by Celerity Educational Group.

The latest controversy: CUSD board members demanded that parents come to the McKinley campus and verify their signatures face-to-face last week. At least 100 parents chose to boycott the verification process, even after Superintendent Karen Frison declared a truce of sorts at a sparsely attended district board meeting.

Parent Revolution deputy director Gabe Rose says a few parents now report having been telephoned received a letter from the district, instructing them to schedule a make-up session. However, he says they'll continue refusing to comply.

As per today's lawsuit, a statement from McKinley parents' lead attorney, Mark Holscher:

"Today McKinley parents are standing for their constitutional rights that they had been denied. When a child is fifty times more likely to be denied a high school diploma than to go to college then their right is being violated. When a parent signs a petition and the school district does nothing but try tactic after tactic to deny that petition, then that petition and the First Amendment right mean nothing. The work of these parents will have resounding effect on parents across California."

Update: Mere hours after the lawsuit was filed, L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien granted the Parent Trigger signers a temporary restraining order against the Compton Unified School District. Which means the superintendent's attempted face-to-face verification process is instantly cancelled and delegitimized.

That O'Brien would instantly cut down district officials is telling of his trust in the allegations. (It certainly couldn't have hurt that pro-bono giants Kirkland & Ellis were on Parent Revolution's side.)

Revolution deputy director Rose clarifies that the lawsuit asks the district to verify Parent Trigger petitions by using the least restrictive manner possible. He notes that the petitions -- which include children's names, children's birthdays, parents' names, addresses, and more -- are self-authenticating, and should not need in-person verification.

The mandate was especially shady because it required that parents either show valid California ID or admit to not having any -- a frightening prospect for an undocumented immigrant in the presence of state authorities.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is getting in on the publicity fest, as well, with a statement that also manages to vet last month's lawsuit against the L.A. teachers' union, which eliminated the "last hired, first fired" layoff system.

"Recently, we had success in fighting for the fundamental right to a quality education in Los Angeles with the Superior Court's decision in Reed v. State of California. The court determined what educators everywhere already know: Disproportionate teacher layoffs have a dramatically negative effect on the way kids learn. With this decision, Los Angeles students, parents and teachers won.

I support parents everywhere who are standing up to demand better for their children and will continue to stand with the courageous Compton parents who are fighting for what all students deserve: a world-class education."

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