Legal precedents for California's 2-year-old "Parent Trigger" law, which allows parents to force reform at a failing K-12 school, are being set every day in the nowhere desert town of Adelanto.
A group of parents initially turned in their petition, filled with signatures representing about 70 percent of kids at Desert Trails Elementary, on Jan. 12.
But at the Adelanto Unified Elementary School District meeting on Feb. 21...
... they saw it thrown back in their faces. Why? Because "three or four parents" came to Superintendent Darin Brawley's office and "gave [him] a binder" containing 97 signatures, he told the Weekly.
The new signatures apparently represented Desert Trails parents who wanted to rescind their names from the original Parent Trigger petition.
But was that even legal?
The recently passed regulations for the Trigger law state very clearly that rescission campaigns pressuring parents to retract their signatures are forbidden. And based on everything we know about who ran the rescission drive and how (see "'Parent Trigger' Petition Rejected by Adelanto School District After Teacher-Backed Rescission Campaign"), that's exactly what happened here.
Unlike the months-long Trigger drive, which we watched with our own eyes, the anti-Trigger effort appears to have been filled with misinformation. From an Associated Press piece yesterday:
Mother Rosa Bracamontes, who has a daughter in fourth grade, said she signed a petition for changes at the school, but then was asked to sign another petition to "save our school," so she signed that one as well.
Later, Bracamontes said she found out she had just revoked her first signature and teachers were behind that rescission campaign. "Parents are not being well informed," she said.
A flier for one rescission rally read, "DESERT TRAILS CHILDREN WILL LOSE THEIR TEACHERS AND PRINCIPAL IF THE PARENT TRIGGER PETITION SUCCEEDS." There's some truth to that -- the school's staff desperately needs re-evaluating, like most failing campuses -- but it's an obvious, fear-mongering half-truth.
Kirkland and Ellis, the same L.A. law firm currently battling Compton Unified School District in court over the first-ever Parent Trigger attempt (Adelanto is the second), has intervened once again.
They're graciously taking on the case pro bono, but it's mutually beneficial -- because California's Parent Trigger law is at the forefront of an ed-reform battle raging hotly across America, pitting charter operators and radical reformers against powerful teachers unions.
Here's what attorney Mark Holscher says about the teacher-backed rescission campaign in Adelanto, in a press release issued by Parent Revolution (the nonprofit guiding the Desert Trails "parent union" through this sticky political mess).
"What we are presenting here is smoking-gun evidence that these 'rescission documents' have fabrication and forgeries. We have these smoking-gun pieces because someone was careless. We don't know at this time how many other 'rescission documents' were falsified or altered. We've requested the District Attorney's office conduct a criminal investigation. Forging or falsifying documents related to an election is a serious matter. It is critical to note that ... even with these illegal 'rescissions,' we still have more than 50 percent of the parents. We are requesting on behalf of the parents by writing to the district that they reconsider and approve this petition. If they don't we'll pursue all legal grounds on behalf of these parents."
The parents and their lawyers have found that some of the rescission petitions were never signed, and some were signed by parents who weren't part of the Trigger in the first place. They've demanded that the district immediately reassess the entire Trigger packet; if not, they'll take legal action.
What's most concerning is that -- after four weeks of examining every inch of the Trigger with a microscope and finding 121 errors, many petty and technical -- Adelanto district officials took the binder of rescissions at face value.
Superintendent Brawley told the Weekly last Wednesday that the rescissions "were verified against the original signatures."
But they only had a few days to do so -- and apparently rushed to a sloppy conclusion. It brings into question the priorities of the district, who has been maintaining a friendlier front than Compton Unified but is clearly not too excited about the prospect of relinquishing financial power over Desert Trails.
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The Los Angeles Times printed an all-too-familiar editorial on the "flawed" Parent Trigger law yesterday. The paper argues that "parent-driven school reform shouldn't be subject to misinformation or lack of information, or depend on which argument was heard most recently."
That would be the ideal. But as long as school districts and teachers unions keep up this antagonism, no Trigger will have the chance to survive the storm of charter-school conspiracy theories.
Anticipating this very backlash, and learning from mistakes Parent Revolution made in Compton, the Desert Trails parent union has taken painstaking efforts to negotiate with the district and make their intentions crystal clear from the very start. It appears reform this rugged won't be popular with comfy district/union lifers, no matter how hard the visionaries push their information campaign.