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Editorial

'Trigger' troubles

Attempts to evade the 'parent trigger,' such as those by the Compton Unified School District, show the need for reforms to the process.

March 07, 2011

We have our concerns about the implementation of California's so-called parent trigger process, which allows parents at certain low-performing schools to force radical change via petition. But that doesn't mean we support attempts to evade the law, as the Compton Unified School District has done by inventing ludicrous excuses for rejecting a petition to turn McKinley Elementary School over to a charter operator.

There was a typographical error. A title was missing. Sometimes one parent signed the petition while the other parent's signature was in the school's registration records.

The district was apparently looking for ways to thwart parents rather than accede to their wishes. There are ways to verify signatures without trying to invalidate as many as possible.

Compton's ploys illustrate the value of the parent trigger. Some school districts, such as Los Angeles Unified with its Public School Choice initiative, are identifying low-performing schools for reform; others, such as Compton, are doing everything to maintain the status quo. In the worst cases, parents need a mechanism to force change.

That doesn't mean we're entirely happy with the way the petition process was carried out. When the new state Board of Education convenes Wednesday to consider permanent regulations for such petitions, it should build on the incomplete set of rules that were near approval by the previous board. The parent trigger should be a public process, as Public School Choice is, rather than one in which petitions are circulated secretly, as they were in the case of McKinley. An open forum — public meetings and public information — will help reformers reach all parents; the group Parent Revolution, which organized the McKinley petition, was unable to contact a substantial minority of parents. A public format would also give parents a chance to learn about all the reform options rather than having only one petition before them, with one choice.

We realize that a more transparent process exposes parents to potential harassment or deceitful behavior by school employees who want to avoid reform, or by the petitioners. The regulations must include strict rules against such behavior, with real consequences.

The McKinley petition was carried out under existing emergency regulations; imperfect as those are, it appears they were followed, even if Compton Unified officials wish otherwise. The McKinley experience shows how much work remains to be done to make the parent trigger a fair and useful process, but it also shows the lengths to which some schools will go to deprive parents of their rightful voice.

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