Lack of dates may doom Compton 'parent trigger' charter school petition

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It's up to a judge to decide if parents can take over the low-performing McKinley Elementary School under the state’s new 'parent trigger' law.

California's first parent petition to force a charter conversion at a low-performing elementary school may fail because the signatures weren't dated, a judge said.

In a tentative ruling issued Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr said the absence of dates documenting when the 265 McKinley Elementary School parents signed the petition was "fatal."

Mohr said he will hear more arguments on the case on June 7, but said he agreed with the Compton Unified School District that dates on signatures are crucial.

Mohr said he did not reach the decision lightly.

"The court is aware of the pain, frustration and perhaps education disadvantages this ruling may cause," the 14-page opinion stated. "However, the court believes the law compels this result."

The petition was filed in December, the first under California's so-called "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to force radical change at underperforming schools through a petition signed by at least half the parents.

The Compton school district challenged the petition, saying reform efforts already were under way at McKinley, one of the state's worst performing elementary schools, and the keenly followed case moved into court.

Lawyers for the parents noted that proposed state regulations on future parent trigger petitions stipulate that the effective date would be the date of filing the petition, not the date of signing.

But the district argued that dating each signature was key to determine if a child was enrolled at the school at the time or if a parent had legal rights over a child at that time.

The judge agreed with the district. "While the likelihood of this happening on a widespread basis may be slim, it remains a real concern," he ruled.

District spokesman Ron Suazo did not immediately return phone message seeking comment.

Parent Revolution, an education reform nonprofit that organized the petition campaign last fall, called the judge's opinion "deeply troubling" and called for future parent-trigger legislation to include a sample petition.

In a statement, the group noted that the petition had been approved by a top law firm and that as the nation's first parent trigger case, it was uncharted legal territory.

"The parents at McKinley are continuing their fight," the statement said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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