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Adelanto school leaders reject parent trigger effort

Supporters of changes at struggling Desert Trails Elementary say they will fight the vote in court.

March 29, 2012|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

Mojave Desert school officials late Wednesday denied a petition by parents to overhaul their children's failing school, dealing a major blow to forces aiming to win the first reform under the state's pioneering parent trigger law.

Adelanto school board members unanimously rejected the petition to turn Desert Trails Elementary into a charter campus, finding that it failed to win the support of parents representing at least half of the school's 642 students, as the law requires. The school has the lowest standardized test scores in Adelanto, with fewer than half the students proficient in math and English.

Petition supporters, who allege that opponents doctored documents to sink their campaign, said they would challenge the board decision in court.

"While we are disappointed and outraged, we are hardly surprised by the board's decision tonight to rely on fraud and forgery to defend the status quo," said Doreen Diaz of Desert Trails Parent Union, which launched the petition campaign.

But Lori Yuan, a parent leader on the other side, expressed relief: "Now we can focus on making actual improvements to the school rather than be distracted by outside issues."

The vote capped weeks of mounting conflict and mutual charges of deceit between two groups of parents, one assisted by the California Teachers Assn., a union, the other by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit that lobbied for the parent trigger law.

The 2010 law allows parents representing at least half the students at low-performing schools to close their campus, transfer management to a charter operator or change the staff and curriculum.

In Adelanto, parents representing what they said was 70% of the school's students submitted a petition in January asking for a charter school. But the board rejected it last month, saying it fell 16 students short of the required threshold after dozens of parents complained they were confused about the campaign and rescinded their signatures.

Under the campaign's strategy, two petitions were circulated — one for district reforms and another for a charter school. Supporters told parents they preferred the first option but submitted the second one as leverage, they said, to press school officials to carry out their desired reforms.

Board President Carlos Mendoza, among others, has criticized the two-petition strategy as confusing and on Wednesday called the rescissions "justified."

But Parent Revolution, in examining the rescission documents, uncovered evidence that at least four of them had been doctored. The group, joined by several state legislators, has called for an investigation into possible fraud, a complaint under review by the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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