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Regulations approved for schools' 'Parent Trigger' law

The state Board of Education sets rules to clarify the law that gives parents the right to petition for new staff, management and programs.

July 14, 2011|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • McKinley Elementary School students play at the Compton campus. Last year, the school became the first test case of the "Parent Trigger" law, but disagreement over certain aspects of the law caused division and sparked lawsuits.
McKinley Elementary School students play at the Compton campus. Last year,… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

After months of controversy, the state Board of Education set out a clear road map Wednesday to allow parents unparalleled rights to force major changes at low-performing schools.

The board approved regulations clarifying the "Parent Trigger" law — the first in the nation to give parents the right to petition for new staff, management and programs at their children's schools. Organizations representing parents, teachers, school districts and other parties overcame sharp differences to reach consensus on such contentious issues as how to draw up petitions, verify parent signatures and ensure public disclosure about the petition process.

Disagreement over those issues exploded last year in the law's first test case at McKinley Elementary School in Compton. There, parents sought to oust the school staff and convert the campus into an independently run, publicly financed charter operation. The petition campaign divided the campus, sparked lawsuits and fueled charges of harassment on both sides.

Controversies also inflamed efforts to draw up regulations at the state board, with various charges that board members were trying to ram through rules favoring charter schools, teachers or other interests.

So when the board unanimously voted to approve the regulations Wednesday, the room exploded in cheers and applause.

"It's like a dream come true to know that I have a voice in my community as well as my state, and my children will have a better future because parents like these took a stand for their children," said Daniel Jackson, a Los Angeles parent who took an overnight bus to Sacramento with other advocates to support the regulations.

Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based education reform group that helped lobby for the law, said the regulations will allow parents to move forward with confidence and organize petition campaigns across the state. He said six to eight parent empowerment groups have formally filed papers to affiliate with his organization.

Even the California Teachers Assn., which opposed the law last year, supported the regulations, and board member Patricia Rucker, a former CTA lobbyist, voted for them.

But CTA spokeswoman Sandra Jackson said the union believes that parent trigger petitions calling for a charter school conversion must obtain support from half of the school's teachers, as is currently required under existing charter school law.

Board President Michael Kirst, however, appeared to reject that view in comments Wednesday.

"It's called the parent empowerment act, not the teacher empowerment act, for a reason," he said.

If no issues are raised during a public comment period, the regulations will take effect with no further board action.

The regulations require the state to create a website with information about the petition process, including a sample petition so organizers will not inadvertently make errors in drawing it up, as occurred in Compton.

They also require the public disclosure of organizations providing financial or other support to petitioners. In addition, the regulations ban payment per signature and require disclosure of those who are paid to gather signatures.

And, school districts will be required to verify signatures through written documents already on hand, such as emergency contact cards. That issue sparked a lawsuit in Compton when officials required people who had signed the petition to come in person with photo identification.

Not all contentious issues were addressed. The regulations do not require public meetings at the schools, nor specify which parents can trigger change with a successful petition. The law allows parents of half the students at the targeted school or those campuses that feed into them to force school districts to convert to a charter campus, replace staff, transform the curriculum or close the school. But the California School Boards Assn. and other advocates argue that the majority of petitioners should be from the targeted school.

The public meeting and petitioner issues are being addressed in legislation by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who heads the Assembly education committee.

Despite such continuing concerns, Sherry Griffith, the school board organization's legislative advocate, hailed the consensus.

"When you decide to roll up your sleeves and decide to work together, you can get pretty far," she said.

And Lydia Grant, a San Fernando Valley parent who also rode the bus to Sacramento, said the regulations would give children in failing schools a new start.

"Every parent like myself has had the door slammed in their face when they have tried to improve the education of their child," she said. "This legislation finally gives us that army behind us to stand up and demand that our children get a better life."

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Michael Mishak contributed to this report.

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