Compton 'Parent Trigger' Pushers Refuse to Verify Signatures in Person; Superintendent Calls Truce to Sparse Crowd

Over 60 percent of McKinley Elementary parents signed a petition in December to convert their children's school to a charter
Over 60 percent of McKinley Elementary parents signed a petition in December to convert their children's school to a charter
PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Compton Unified School District's acting superintendent, Karen Frison, changed her game at last night's district board meeting.

She released a "media statement" -- which district aids were, for some reason, hesitant to hand over to us, much less to parents -- asking for peace and cooperation from a group of parents and trained organizers trying to change Compton's McKinley Elementary into a Celerity charter school.

Likewise, board members were on broken-record at the meeting, repeating that their request to meet face-to-face with every parent who signed the Parent Trigger petition today and tomorrow "is a very friendly process."

It was a far cry from the our-way-or-the-highway letter sent home with McKinley students this week. And the parents behind the Trigger aren't buying any of it.

Superintendent Frison's statement reads:

"For the first time ever, the Compton Unified School District will be facilitating a process to verify signatures of our parents and legal guardians as part of an effort to validate the 'parent trigger' petitions submitted to our district last month. As we indicated last month when we received the 'parent trigger' petitions, we intend for the process to be open and transparent. Signature verification is an important first step in the parent trigger process."

She goes on to promise the petition/verification documents will all be kept in a "lock box" (uh, OK) and explain that the district has a "responsibility to ensure that every parent or guardian who signed a 'parent trigger' petition is the proper person." She claims the process is the same one Compton uses when enrolling children at any of its campuses, or when a parent needs to pick up a child early from school.

But no McKinley parent has seen that statement. In contrast, the send-home letter from McKinley secretary Alejandro Flores, dated January 19, reads:

"As part of the District's responsibility to evaluate the Petition, we ask that you come to McKinley Elementary School on January 26 or 27, 2011, between the hours of 7:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. (on either date) to sign a form verifying your signature on the Petition. Please make sure to bring official photo identification (such as a California driver's license), as you will be asked to show identification before being provided a signature verification form. ...

You are not required to verify your signature, but if you do not appear and verify your signature, your signature will not count towards the 50% required to qualify for a parent trigger petition under the Education Code."

Four mothers, including two fresh faces to the highly publicized movement, stood up at the meeting to tell Frison and the board that this supposed olive branch was too little, too late.

"We have worked very hard to get hundreds of signatures," Lorena Bautista said in Spanish. "Please respect our signatures and respect our petition."

Bautista added that there were many parents who would not be able to make it to McKinley during the allotted times -- this Wednesday and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. -- because they might be working, home sick, etc.

Revolution regular Marlene Romero brought up a couple interesting points as well: Parents are afraid to oppose McKinley in public, as they claim to have been approached and intimidated by teachers ever since they signed the petition. Also, the school should have all the families' info on file already; why not match it up to the papers in the Parent Trigger file?

However, board members were prepped for the complaints long before the public comment period began at a grueling 9 p.m.

Earlier in the night, they made promises like "Any parent that does not attend, we will contact them and make sure there is a time you can come in" and "We're prepared to contact every person who does not show up." Even, they said, covering all potential bases, those parents who don't necessarily have a valid California ID (read: undocumented).

The problem is, only the 20 parents most involved in Parent Revolution -- of the 200-odd who signed the petition -- were present to witness their kind words.

Board Member Micah Ali gave a State of the Union-worthy speech of his own (ironically during the same time slot as Obama's), calling the school district a "creature of the legislature" and declaring: "We're not dealing with Al Qaeda. We're not dealing with Hamas. We are dealing with our parents. While I'm anxiously waiting for the process to move forward, i want to make certain that all you parents, no matter what side of the fence you stand on, that we're treating you fairly."

He received one of the night's few rounds of applause.

The first verification time was this morning, from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, says turnout was weak, and that 100 of the angry parents who stand behind the Trigger signed a new letter saying they won't comply with the district's request.

"Yo no tengo que mostrar ningun papel ni presentar ningun ID," McKinley mother Emelda Ramirez said, refusing to show up at McKinley this week for verification, at last night's meeting.

Compton school officials also made it very clear last night that they're aware Governor Jerry Brown's recent shift to generally anti-charter California Board of Education members will help them drag and warp the Parent Trigger regulations proposed by Schwarzenegger's very pro-charter board.

"There's a new California Board of Ediucation now, and they're taking a whole entirely different look at the parent trigger, from what I've read in the paper," one board member said. "From what I've read, we have been doing whatever we're supposed to be doing up to this point. ... Sacramento is still talking and discussing."

Board members have actually been doing a lot of reading in the paper. Another piped up: "I'm troubled by the way our district has been portrayed in the media."

The media may end up being the least of their problems. As Patrick Range McDonald reported on Monday, fresh out of a Parent Revolution press conference, a couple law firms have gotten involved.

[Ben] Austin, the leader of Parent Revolution [and former California Board of Education member], 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.

Pro-Trigger State Senator Gloria Romero was at the conference as well, criticizing the district's face-to-face mandate. "It's not about verification!" she said. "It is purely about disenfranchisement."

Only time will tell if district officials indeed follow up the in-person verification dates with phone calls to every parent on the petition. As you know, we'll keep you posted.


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