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'Parent Trigger' Saved in Court by First Amendment; Charter-School Petitioners Brace for More Compton District Stall Tactics

The last few months have been a painstaking uphill battle for Parent Revolution, the group of organizers and McKinley Elementary School parents trying to turn one vastly underperforming Compton campus into a charter school. Though the group does have some major politicians, charter advocates and education reformers behind it, the Compton Unified School District has otherwise managed to stonewall petitioners at every turn.

But not today.

Now that the community battle has been transplanted to a house of law, things are going a little more smoothly. At this morning's hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr, famous for his kindness to L.A. pot shops, more or less told district officials that their method of verifying Parent Trigger signatures -- in person, with photo ID -- was dodgy as hell. And unconstitutional, besides.

Good old First Amendment. For every Alexandra Wallace, there's a concerned parent who can use it as a way to cut through the institutionalized greed of a top-heavy government to a better future for their kid.

In their late-February rejection of the Parent Trigger petition, CUSD officials claimed that many of the signatures were invalid due to small discrepancies with their existing parent records, like birthdays and autograph appearance.

But now, Parent Revolution Deputy Director Gabe Rose, who was in court today, tells us that the district will have to go back and re-verify all 275 signatures "in the least restrictive manner possible" by April 1.

When the judge's deadline arrives, CUSD will no doubt have conjured up another way to reject over 50 percent of parent signatures. However, Rose says that their verification process will, at that point, be "subject of strict scrutiny," and -- if found at all intimidating or unthorough -- could instead be handed off to a "neutral third party."

Wow. Neutral third party. What a concept.

"Compton objected strongly to that," ays pro-bono Parent Trigger attorney Jay Lefkowitz. "They even objected to the court having an expert help them do the count, and rejected the League of Women Voters, who has a lot of experience counting petitions."

But of course they did.

"This time, they're going to have laid out, signature by signature, where the problems were," says Rose. "Then, at that point, [Judge Mohr] has the power to bring in an independent elections expert."

Hallelujah. A gossipy playground battle of turf rights and hearsay is finally receiving the careful legal treatment it needs, while the California Board of Education mulls the Parent Trigger regulations (meanwhile extending the old ones, another Parent Revolution victory) and reformers around the nation use it as a guiding light.

But the fight has just begun. We'll see you back in court on April 11.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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