For the first time in American history, parents with kids at an extremely low-performing school -- in this case, Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto -- have succeeded in filing a petition to seize it from the district, thanks to San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Steven Malone.
It's a historic moment for the education-reform movement picking up steam across the nation:
California's radical new "Parent Trigger" law, whose first run was foiled by the Compton Unified School District, has inspired similar attempts in states like Texas and Florida, as well as a big-budget Hollywood film Won't Back Down (set to open this fall).
But a failing school has yet to see its teaching/administrative staff replaced or its entire structure overhauled by a charter organization, as the Parent Trigger law allows.
This Superior Court decision is the closest the Trigger has ever come to fruition: Judge Malone writes 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 ruling comes in response to a lawsuit that parents filed over two months ago, with the help of L.A. education-reform org Parent Revolution and its expert lawyers, after the district rejected their petition.
Officials shot down the months-long effort based on a last-minute binder of "rescission" signatures collected by Parent Trigger opponents, including local representatives from the California Teachers Association -- a move the judge now calls illegal.
From his stern ruling:
"Once the petition was submitted, the District and the Trustees lacked authority to reject 97 signatures from the petition based on subsequent extrinsic evidence of recession... the District and Trustees have a mandatory legislative duty to include those signatures. The inclusion of those 97 signatures raises the number of qualified signatures to greater than 50%."
Although the district is expected to appeal, parents can go ahead with their plans for the time being. And based on Judge Malone's apparent confidence, Gabe Rose, deputy director for Parent Revolution, says he "couldn't be less worried" about the outcome of an appeal.
Rose says the judge mailed out his final decision last week -- "a pretty huge victory for the parents and for the movement."
Because the 2012 school year begins so soon, the petitioning parents (who call themselves the Desert Trails Parent Union) are planning to debut their "full transformation of the school" in 2013, according to Rose. Up to now, they've expressed strong interest in creating a "partnership school" with the district, run by a board of educational experts with some seats for district officials. Rose says the Parent Union will be announcing more solidified plans after "a lot of thinking and planning this week."
Here is an official statement from Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution.
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"This is an historic victory for the courageous parents of Desert Trails. These parents refused to give-up, even after losing two school board votes in the wake of an illegal rescission campaign riddled with fraud and forgeries. These parents took on the most powerful special interests in the state, and they won. Today, we close one chapter and open another. We celebrate the culmination of a long and arduous struggle, and we embrace the historic challenge ahead of transforming Desert Trails for the parents and children it is supposed to serve."
As we learned both from Adelanto and from the first-ever Trigger attempt in Compton, rescission drives are often backed by district officials (who have a financial stake in each of their campuses) and teachers unions (whose members stand to lose their jobs if new management finds they don't meet higher educational standards).
We've contacted Adelanto Unified for comment. Updates to come.