LAUSD turns down 'parent trigger' bid at southeast LA elementary school

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Los Angeles Unified School District officials have rejected a "parent trigger" petition from a group seeking to turn over control of their southeast L.A. elementary school to a charter school operator.

District leaders rejected the petition from parents at 20th Street Elementary School because, according to a letter officials sent the group on Saturday, the school is not subject to the California law that lets parents force changes at a low-performing school where their children attend — if they can gather enough signatures.

Parent trigger advocates say the 20th Street Elementary Parents Union submitted more than 350 signatures in February — enough to to force the district to turn over 20th Street to a charter operator.

But in the district's response, a district lawyer counters that the school isn't eligible for the parent trigger process since 20th Street met its "adequate yearly progress" target under federal school accountability laws.

California's parent trigger law, which became law in 2010, has been controversial since its inception. While proponents argue that the mechanism gives parents the power to force needed changes in struggling schools, critics argue that efforts to turn schools over to charter operators are often far from grassroots and are motivated by efforts to weaken teachers unions and traditional school districts. 

Gabe Rose, the chief strategy officer at Parent Revolution, an advocacy group that supports parent trigger efforts and that helped organize the school's parents, said the district was wrong in saying the school isn't eligible for the parent-initiated transformation under state law.

He said the school's most recent Academic Performance Index score of 765 puts it well below the mark — 800 — where schools become eligible for the parent trigger. The school must also be "subject to corrective action" under federal law.

"A lot of these are not matters of opinion, they're actually provably false," Rose said. "I think it's unfortunate that LAUSD chose to go down this road rather than spending their time, energy and money trying to work with families that are trying to make their school better."

But L.A. Unified attorney David R. Holmquist said the petition was also "defective" because it did not specify what kind of intervention parents were seeking at the school: did they seek to turn it over to an independent charter operator? Or to an education management organization, a type of school operator that isn't necessarily a charter?

Parents at 20th Street Elementary had also collected enough signatures for a trigger petition last year, Rose said, but opted against turning them in when the district offered to take steps to improve academic performance at the school. (Roughly four out of five students at 20th Street tested as not proficient on the last round of state testing.)

But parents said the district is not living up to its promises to act quickly to make changes. In a Feb. 1 letter to L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King, the parents cited turnover in the principal's office and what they said was the district's failure to deliver on a promise to train teachers.

That dissatisfaction led the 20th Street Elementary group to turn in a new petition signed by 58 percent of the school's parents.

In a statement, King said district staff "remain committed to working with parents to address all concerns in a timely manner."

Rose said parents have been in contact with attorneys who have prevailed in similar cases. Those attorneys have agreed to represent the parents for free, leading Rose to believe the parents would be "well-positioned" to prevail if they opted to bring the district's rejection before a judge.

"It's incredible to me," Rose said, "that LAUSD apparently … is throwing a kitchen sink of highly-technical and inaccurate legal arguments at families hoping that either they'll give up or that they'll win a bank shot case in court."

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