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Posted at 02:46 PM ET, 07/24/2012

A strange ‘parent trigger’ court ruling

How’s this for logic? “Parent trigger” laws are supposedly about empowering parents to decide how to improve ailing schools. But now a California judge has ruled that parents who signed a petition to convert a traditional public school into a public charter are not allowed to change their minds and rescind their signatures.

Now that’s some way to empower parents.

The case involves efforts by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, where most sixth-graders don’t read at grade level, to push for reforms at the troubled school under the parent trigger law, the first of its kind in the country.

Parent trigger advocates say it gives parents more options and power in their children’s education. Opponents say the movement is led by people who want to expand charter schools and that it will lead to more privately run schools and contentious battles in school communities. In fact, there have been two such battles in California, with people on both sides accusing the other of lying and intimidation.

In Florida this year, parent trigger legislation was shot down after it failed to receive an endorsement from a single major parent organization, including the PTA. Why? They thought it would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies. Meanwhile, about 20 states are considering similar parent trigger laws, and a few have passed them.

This is all happening just before the release of a major movie called “Won’t Back Down,” a pro-parent trigger film with Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter that was produced by Walden Media, a company owned by uber-conservative entrepreneur Philip Anschutz. Walden helped distribute “Waiting for Superman,” a tendentious documentary that mischaracterized charter schools as a systemic answer to public education’s problems and hailed Michelle Rhee as a reform hero. You don’t have to guess about the message of “Won’t Back Down” — watch this trailer.

Back in California, the parent trigger law says that if more than 50 percent of parents sign a petition, they can wrest control of a school from the board of education. Then they can decide to replace the staff and overhaul the curriculum, shut down the school or convert it into a charter school with outside management.

In Adelanto, the pro-parent trigger organization Parent Revolution circulated two different petitions among the Desert Trails community, one that called for major school reforms implemented by the district and another that called for converting the school into a charter run by outside management. Only the petition for a charter was presented to the district board of education, however, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The board invalidated a number of signatures, including 97 from parents who decided that they didn’t want to support the initiative anymore. That brought the number of signatures on the petition to below the threshold that would allow parents to take over control of the school.

The school board’s decision to reject the charter petition was taken to court, and San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled that the parent trigger law doesn’t permit parents to change their minds and remove their signatures once they have signed a petition. The only way a name can come off a signed petition is if a school board finds that it is invalid.

Desert Trails Elementary is obviously a school in need of improvement, and this is being hailed by parent trigger supporters as a major victory. Good luck to ’em. They’ll need it.

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By  |  02:46 PM ET, 07/24/2012

 
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