Parent Trigger Law Notches First Victory in California

The two-year-old California ‘parent trigger’ law has notched its first success after a judge in Adelanto, a town north of Los Angeles, said that school district officials must accept the parental petition outlining proposals for overhauling a failing local school. Although the law has been in effect since 2010, this is the first time that the judge has weighed in on the side of the petitioners.

The parent trigger law allows parents to force changes onto a failing school as long as at least 50% of the parents put their signatures on the petition submitted to the school board. The parents of Desert Trails Elementary School collected the required number of signatures, but the board rejected their petition because district officials claimed that some parents rescinded their signatures before the petition was formally submitted.

This Friday, Superior Court Judge Steve Malone overruled the district, saying that the law didn’t provide a mechanism for rescinding signatures that have already been collected. This means that there are enough signatures for parents to force a change in Desert Trails. The school has been listed as failing over most of the last decade and the parental petition is calling for the school to be converted into a charter.

The district has already indicated its intention to appeal Malone’s ruling.

One of the issues is that parents signed two petitions. The first was to implement significant reform at Desert Trails. The second was to put in a charter school if the reform efforts failed.

Only the second petition was submitted to the school board.

The fact that two petitions were collecting signatures at the same time — of which only one was submitted — is misleading according to the Adelanto school board president Carlos Mendoza. Although Mendoza claims to be at least somewhat supportive of charter schools in the district, he said that this kind of approach to signature collection could confuse local residents. He also said that if the charters come to the district, the parents and local residents should have a say over the charter operation.

Parent trigger laws give parents a chance to turn around a failing school rather than move to a new district or pay for private school. Adelanto parents may be the first to take advantage of this opportunity.

California was the first state to introduce parent trigger laws but since then others have adopted similar legislation. The purpose is to give parents some control over the future of failing schools.