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Editorial

'Parent trigger' clarity

A judge's ruling ends the bureaucratic nonsense involving Desert Trails Elementary School and opens the door to reform at the troubled school.

July 27, 2012
  • Parent members of the Desert Trails Parent Union rallied in Adelanto to submit the second-ever "parent trigger" petitions to transform the underperforming school, Desert Trails Elementary.
Parent members of the Desert Trails Parent Union rallied in Adelanto to… (Los Angeles Times )

Finally, a judge has put an end to the nonsense at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, where parents want to force major changes but have been blocked by the district. In addition to clearing the way for reform at the school, the ruling sends a broader message that school officials cannot undermine California's "parent trigger" law by making parents run around in bureaucratic circles.

The trigger law allows parents at lower-performing schools to compel one of several possible reforms if half of them sign a petition. They can convert schools into charters, or replace staffs entirely, among other options. But the parents at Desert Trails sought an option not outlined in the law: to have the school remain part of the district, but with parents asserting authority over staff and curriculum. They also signed a backup petition for a charter conversion if the first effort didn't work.

The result was confusion and mistrust, for which Parent Revolution, the organization that lobbied for the trigger law and helps run petition drives, must bear some responsibility. But it also quickly became clear that the district would go to great lengths to keep any petition from succeeding. Among other things, it allowed parents to rescind their signatures after the petitions were officially submitted.

The judge ruled that the after-the-fact rescissions were not permitted. That makes sense; the signatures are de facto votes, and voters aren't allowed to change their minds after leaving the booth on election day. On a practical level, the rescissions turned the trigger process into a hostile, divisive mess of warring factions, with some parents changing their minds multiple times.

This serves as a reminder that the parent trigger, though an intriguing idea for improving problem schools, is the result of a thoughtlessly written law backed by inadequate regulations. There should be public forums for discussing trigger options so that parents have all the information before signing a petition.

Barring a successful appeal, the trigger law appears to have won the war; the judge's decision should give it a chance to show what it can do for troubled schools across California. What remains unclear is whether it has won the battle at Desert Trails. Theoretically, the parents can move ahead with their plans for a charter school, but no charter operators or other entities have expressed interest in taking on the challenge. Parent Revolution and a group of Desert Trail parents are planning to invite all school districts or organizations to apply.

There are many obstacles to successful change at Desert Trails. The state's education funding is low, and the student turnover rate is extremely high. Involved parents can make a big difference, though, and we hope the engaged and caring families of Desert Trails get the chance to prove it.

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