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State Board of Education puts the brakes on parent-trigger law

A group will be appointed to study how to implement the measure, which lets parents petition for sweeping reforms at low-performing schools. Critics see it as an attempt to derail the law.

February 10, 2011|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • Ismania Guzman, center, celebrates with supporters after they gained enough signatures to force an overhaul at McKinley Elementary School in Compton.
Ismania Guzman, center, celebrates with supporters after they gained… (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles…)

The state Board of Education, in its first full meeting with a majority of members appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, moved Wednesday to put the brakes on a landmark law that gives parents the right to force major reforms at low-performing schools.

The board took no action on proposed regulations to implement the law but instead will set up a working group to help determine the procedures. The panel will include those who had complained that the previous board was rushing the process without sufficiently considering their input. The board will reconsider the issue in March.

"We believe all parties involved in public schools should have a say before critical decisions are made," said Richard Zeiger, chief deputy superintendent of public instruction.

But critics charge that the delay is politically motivated and aimed at derailing the law, known as the parent trigger, which allows the majority of parents at low-performing schools to petition for such sweeping reforms as major staffing and program changes or turning over campus management to a charter operator. Charters are independently run and publicly financed.

In what one critic called a "bombshell" statement, state education officials said Wednesday that it would be difficult to write clear regulations based on the law because it was too vague. As a result, officials said they are working on "cleanup" legislation with state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who heads the Assembly Education Committee and last year voted against the bill containing the parent-trigger provisions.

That disclosure set off alarm among supporters, including Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based educational reform group and charter school ally that organized the state's first petition drive to turn over a Compton elementary school to a charter operator.

"This is clearly nothing more than an attempt to repeal the law," said Gabe Rose, the group's deputy director.

He said the previous board spent more than eight months working with state educational officials, parents, teachers, administrators and other parties on the parent-trigger regulations. He said they produced four drafts after three votes and two public comment sessions.

But Zeiger said the original statute failed to address critical questions on the petition process. They include whether to require petitioners to file a public notice of their intentions, whether that should trigger a mandatory public meeting to inform all parents, who should be allowed to sign the petition and whether financial interests should be disclosed.

Brownley, who said she generally supports parent petition rights but voted against the bill primarily because it included provisions on other issues she opposed, said she had no intention of trying to repeal the law.

"My intention is to ensure that parents are empowered but also that there is a fair and transparent process," she said.

Dozens of parents from Compton and Lynwood took an overnight bus to Sacramento to appeal to the board in Spanish and English.

Despite the state board delays, officials in the Compton Unified School District said they would continue to use existing law and emergency regulations to process petitions from parents who are said to represent 61% of students at McKinley Elementary School. Parents recently won a temporary restraining order barring the district from requiring them to verify their signatures in person with photo identification. A court hearing is scheduled later this month.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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