At an unannounced Compton Unified School District meeting last night, district officials demanded that McKinley Elementary School parents -- over 60 percent of whom petitioned in December to turn their children's campus into a charter school -- come to campus and verify their signatures next week.
The attempted takeover was made possible by a highly disputed new law called Parent Trigger, which allows half-or-more of parents at any failing school (as designated by the U.S. Department of Education) to make major decisions about its future.
Ismenia Guzman, a Parent Trigger supporter who attended last night's meeting, says the 30 or 40 parents in attendance were given a shocking ultimatum:
Either show up to McKinley Elementary during a narrow two-day window next week -- Wednesday, January 26, and Thursday, January 27 -- for a roughly five-minute interview with district officials, or be eliminated from the official file of Parent Trigger petitioners.
"They told us that for those parents that signed the petition, we will receive a letter by mail explaining and giving two days -- the 26th and 27th, and they mentioned the times the school is going to be open -- for us to come in, look at petition, say is that really our kid and did we really sign the petition," Guzman says.
She adds that if she remembers correctly, the time slots will be 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. (As soon as the Weekly obtains a copy of the letter, we will post it here.)
The demand is likely in response to opposing complaints -- from parents organized by McKinley's Parent Teacher Association -- that Parent Revolution staffers and volunteers lied about the terms of the charter-school petition, telling them it was only for beautification and pressuring them into signing.
Pastor Lee Finnie, a McKinley parent and PTA supporter, told the Weekly at the end of December that he had more than enough signatures, from parents who wished to go back and rescind their original signatures, to reverse the Trigger. He said he would present the rescissions at the next CUSD board meeting; Finnie never did so.
Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution -- the organization who rallied McKinley parents from the beginning -- says that none of the law's current emergency regulations require such face-to-face verification.
Neither the Compton superintendent nor McKinley Elementary administrators were picking up their phones this afternoon. We'll keep trying.
Last Friday, two McKinley parents filed harassment complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Marlene Romero and Hebert Hidalgo claim that, because they support a takeover of McKinley by the Celerity Educational Group, teachers at the school have been trying to intimidate their children into turning against them.
According to Romero: "Ivan told me on the way to school that he hated me because I was changing his school to a charter which would be a bad thing according to Ivan's teacher, Mr. Victor Tellez." Her list of complaints goes on.
In response to the newly national controversy, Superintendent Karen Frison was quick to respond with a heartsick statement:
"We have zero tolerance for harassment. We take all allegations of harassment seriously, particularly if those allegations involve a staff person or teacher employed by our district. We have district policies with respect to harassment and we enforce those policies."
However, on Dec. 14, the Weekly witnessed Romero deliver these same complaints, along with three others, directly to the office of Superintendent Frison. To this day, Parent Revolution and its army of mothers and fathers have received no response to the allegations.
At the most recent CUSD board meeting, on January 11, one board member read another statement aloud, the district's first public acknowledgment that a petition had even been filed: "We wanted to provide an update on the Parent Trigger petition."
She made very clear that the district still had 10 to 15 more business days to respond, and that the petition would "be reviewed and processed in an orderly and fair manner."
That was it.
Ironically, amid all this chaos, CUSD officials are trying to push an item that would close McKinley altogether, and -- among other possibilities -- consolidate it with another Compton elementary school or middle school. (Last night's meeting on McKinley, where they pulled the face-to-face mandate out of the blue, was actually a "Consolidation/Realignment Community Forum." Like all districts in California, Compton is staggering to make up for huge cuts in the state budget, made especially messy by its already bottom-scraping academic results.)
"Since I'm on the other side [of the McKinley boundaries], my daughter will have to go to Vanguard Middle School," says McKinley mother Guzman. "I'm not comfortable with it, because my daughter is only six years old, and would be going to school with kids twice her age."
Though the meetings are marketed as "forums" for discussing the different closure options -- and Parent Revolution opponents have largely criticized the org for not doing the same concerning options under the Parent Trigger law -- many parents feel their input has no sway.
Guzman says district officials "don't give us parents an opportunity for us to speak our minds. They are deciding for us."
Rose says he thinks the school-closure meetings are just another tactic to delay the Celerity reform and go through with the shutdown of McKinley. "That would further their resolve," he says -- though he's also fairly certain their last-minute verification tactic isn't legal.
State Senator Gloria Romero, who authored the law, doesn't think so either. She will release a statement this afternoon (as she usually does with anything Parent Trigger)
condemning concerning the district's latest face-to-face mandate.
Update: The senator's statement follows.
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"The march towards justice is long and winding, and the dreams of parents in Compton for the educational success of their children is but thelatest chapter in this historic fight. As the author of this law, I am deeply saddened that these tactics are being used to try to suppress its use. This latest attempt to disenfranchise parents who have boldly stood up for change is in violation of both the spirit and the letter of the law. I call upon Compton Unified officials to immediately change course. As for me, I will continue to stand with these visionary Compton parents all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, in order to simply be able to use the laws of the State of California to advocate for the educational opportunities of their children."
Will anybody show up? Guzman says she and other Parent Revolution organizers wouldn't think of it.
"I'm not going to waste my time," she says. "I signed my petition, and that's what I want, and there's nothing they can do. I think they're trying to brainwash us. That's against our rights."
The legality of either side is somewhat up in the air right now, following new California Governor Jerry Brown's complete overhaul of the formerly pro-charter State Board of Education. It will be up to them to pass the final Parent Trigger regulations -- and considering some new board members also belong to groups that lobbied against the law in the first place, they're sure to have a harsh hand.