For first time, a ‘parent trigger’ without a hitch

For the first time, a group of parents has succeeded in pulling a “parent trigger” on a struggling school without resistance.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday morning urged the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education to approve the “parent trigger” push to convert 24th Street Elementary into a charter school. The board unanimously approved the parents’ “restart model” on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff / Courtesy Parent Revolution)

On a 7- 0 vote, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday afternoon quickly approved a petition to overhaul 24th Street Elementary through a “restart model” under California’s Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. The so-called parent trigger law enables parents to organize and force major reforms on underperforming schools, from firing the principal and half the staff to ceding control to a charter operator.

“With their unanimous vote, the LAUSD Board has given its full support to transform our school and give our children the opportunity for a better education,” said lead parent organizer Amabilia Villeda in a statement. “We are very thankful.”

Tuesday’s uneventful vote marked only the second time a parent trigger push has advanced — and the first time such an effort sailed past a local school board without going to court.

“I don’t get the controversy at the moment, because it’s going as I think the law intended it to go,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy on Wednesday. “I had no knowledge of ‘opposition’ in the world of parents. None.”

During similar efforts in the California cities of Compton and Adelanto, the parent trigger process proved divisive and hostile. Counter-campaigns of parents and teachers fiercely opposed the petition drives. Opponents accused the petitioners of lying to and misleading parents to get signatures by promising a safer, cleaner school but not making it clear that the petition could lead to a charter school conversion. Each side accused the other of harassment and aggressive tactics.

Every California parent trigger effort thus far has been bankrolled by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit founded by former Clinton administration official Ben Austin.

In Adelanto, a tiny desert city about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, parent petitioners at Desert Trails Elementary saw their plan rejected three times at the school board level, with district officials citing signature verification and technical problems and several dozen parents requesting to withdraw their initial signatures, through forms called “rescissions.” The petitioners then argued those rescissions were “riddled with fraud.” Ultimately, a San Bernardino County judge ruled the district could not accept withdrawn signatures. The Desert Trails parent union exchanged hugs and tears with school board members after getting a charter school conversion approved in early January.

In the LAUSD, the signature verification process went “very smoothly,” Deasy said. The parent union estimated it collected enough parent signatures to represent 69 percent of students at the school, which has about 685 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The 24th Street petitioners could tell they were going to get the response they wanted when the LAUSD board decided to lump the parent trigger item with some 50 other generally non-controversial items on Tuesday’s consent agenda.

“Having something on consent is not a common event because it’s a signal that everybody agrees with the item moving forward,” Deasy said. “It may have been an understated signal, but it was quite a powerful signal for the LAUSD school board.”

Before the vote, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined about 35 parents and children from 24th Street for a rally at a park near the school. He urged the LAUSD board to approve the plan. Villaraigosa has been a vocal supporter of parent trigger laws, along with the members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Also on Tuesday, the Coalition for School Reform announced a $1 million contribution from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help support LAUSD board members who back reforms like more access to charter schools and stricter teacher evaluations.

The 24th Street parent union received eight letters from operators and organizations interested in submitting a school transformation plan. The LAUSD was one of them.

But if the parents choose an outside operator, 24th Street’s teachers — or an equivalent number of other teachers within the LAUSD — could lose their jobs. Deasy would not discuss whether the process could lead to teacher layoffs.

“When we get to that point, we’ll deal with it,” Deasy said. “I don’t want to imagine a concern that may or may not exist.”

The full proposals to transform 24th Street are due by March 8. The parent leadership team will then evaluate each plan and vote on its top choice by April 1.

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