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Parent Trigger Movie Won't Back Down Inspired by L.A. Weekly Feature Story

Read L.A. Weekly's investigative stories: "California's Parent Trigger" and "Parent Trigger's Second Try."

You may have seen a trailer for the new film Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter. The movie's subject matter revolves around education reform and a thing called the Parent Trigger, a California law that allows parents to take over a failing school. From what a reliable insider told us, an award-winning L.A. Weekly story, "California's Parent Trigger," provided some of the inspiration for the film.

That 2010 article, which won the "Best News Feature" award from the Los Angeles Press Club in 2011, describes how parents in Compton and the education reform group Parent Revolution joined forces and pulled the nation's first Parent Trigger.

"For the first time perhaps in U.S. history," we wrote in 2010, "parents are poised to take over and turn around a failing public school on their own terms. And 74 more such takeovers will be allowed under the new California law.

"The balance of power in decision-making is shifted to include not only educators but parents," says Priscilla Wohlstetter, visiting professor at Columbia University's Teachers College and professor at USC's Rossier School of Education.

"These parent pioneers may not only shake up California but send shock waves across the nation."

Indeed. That's what those Compton parents did, with a big Hollywood movie about the Parent Trigger now coming to a theater near you on Sept. 28.

The Compton effort, though, ran into some legal problems, and the trigger wasn't successfully pulled. But this past July, parents with the help of Parent Revolution used the Parent Trigger law to take over a failing school in Desert Trails, which Simone Wilson wrote about in the post "'Parent Trigger' Scores First-Ever Victory in Desert Springs."

Teachers unions, which abhor the Parent Trigger, seeing it as a threat to their membership, probably will hate the movie, but Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin is obviously thrilled.

"Now it's time to not let politics stand in the way of good policy and hold ourselves accountable to making every single decision as if that decision would directly impact our own children," Austin recently said in a press release. "That's the premise behind parent empowerment and Won't Back Down."

Brooke Wilcher, spokeswoman for production company Walden Media, which made the movie, also told L.A. Weekly earlier this year that the Parent Trigger in Compton was "one of the events that helped with the script," but added, "That kind of stuff is happening all over the country."

Wilcher wouldn't confirm that any particular news story informed the script more than another. However, it seems clear that the film's concept owes the Compton parents a big debt.

Ben Austin also mentions in a recent press statement that Desert Trails, which Simone Wilson covered closely, provided some of the inspiration. That victory happened after San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Steven Malone ruled in the parents' favor, stating that the Adelanto school district must "allow Petitioners to immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting charter school proposals" for Desert Trails Elementary.

The hard-working Parent Revolution organizers and all of these parents got their due notice in L.A. Weekly.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.