Photo: Desert Trails parents vote for charter school to take over failing elementary; photo by Gabriel Luis Acosta.
UPDATE, January 9, 2013: Eighteen moths after parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto pulled the "parent trigger," the board of the Adelanto Elementary School District yesterday voted unanimously to approve their request to have a charter operator -- the LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy of Hesperia, chosen by a parent vote in October -- take over the Desert Trails campus. This is the first successful takeover of a low-performing school by parents using the "trigger" law. [Full history of this story below the jump.]
UPDATE, October 18, 2012: The parents of Desert Trails Elementary School voted today on their choice of a charter school operator to take over the "failing campus" in the Adelanto Elementary School District. Candidates were the Lewis Center for Educational Research in Apple Valley, which operates the Academy for Academic Excellence in Apple Valley and the Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy in San Bernardino, and LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which operates a K-8 school in Hesperia. The closed at 7 p.m. and when the votes were counted, LaVerne was the winner with 53 votes out of 180 eligible voters.
UPDATE, October, 14, 2012: The San Diego Union Tribune reported today that Superior Court Judge John Vander Feer ruled on Friday that Adelanto Elementary School District must immediately comply with a previous court order allowing a parents group to convert a failing elementary school into a charter [see background story on below].
UPDATE, August 30, 2012: The Los Angeles Times reports that the Desert Trails Parents Union has asked the courts to order the Adelanto Elementary School Board to stop blocking their efforts to select a charter school to take over the campus of Desert Trails Elementary, a "failing campus.".... parent leader Doreen Diaz (at left, in a photo from CBS News) said charter backers would take all legal action necessary to force the board to honor their petition and give their children a quality education. Desert Trails is the lowest performing elementary school in the Adelanto district, with nearly three-fourths of sixth-graders unable to do grade-level work in math and English.
UPDATE, August 21, 2012: The Adelanto Elementary School Board voted last Friday night, 3-1, to accept the parents' petition to overhaul the low-performing Desert Trails Elementary School -- but rejrected the parents' preferred choice, a charter school, "after concluding there was insufficient time to start one for the new school year" that began yesterday, according to a report by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times.
Both sides sharply disagreed over whether board members had the right to make that decision in the face of a July 18 court ruling [see previous reporting below] ordering them to allow parents to begin soliciting and selecting a charter operator.
Mark Holscher, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the parents, said San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone gave the order even after the district argued there would not be enough time to put a charter school in place by Monday...
"The school board has the final say-so, but using the tactic of deny and delay in order to run out the clock is illegal," said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the 2010 parent trigger law.
Adelanto school board President Carlos Mendoza said the law gives school boards the final authority over which overhaul option to choose....
UPDATE, August 8, 2012: John Fensterwald, writing on EdSource this morning, reports that the Desert Trails Parent Union, which successfully pulled the "parent trigger" (see background details in the thread below), announced yesterday that it has invited three applicants to submit formal proposals by September 21 that address the operation of the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto. Two of the inquiries were from existing charters in San Bernardino County that, as Fensterwald describes, offer a "distinct choice" to parents:
The High Desert Partnership, also known as the Lewis Center for Educational Research, operates two STEM-based charter schools and a student-run radio telescope with ties to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. LaVerne Elementary Prep, a 400-student K-8 charter school in Hesperia, offers what executive director and founder Debra Tarver calls a classical education in which students learn Latin as well as French and Spanish, and read the Odyssey, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and classical children’s literature. Desert Trails parents probably couldn’t ask for clearer differences in educational philosophy.
A fourth inquiry received by the Desert Trails Parent Union, from a for-profit consulting firm, was rejected.
UPDATE, July 24, 2012: It was announced yesterday that San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled on Friday, July 20, that recissions of parent signatures on "trigger" petitions are improper, and ordered the Adelanto Elementary School Board in the Mojave Desert to accept the petition "within 30 days and to immediately seek proposals from charter school operators to take over Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto...," according to a story in the Huffington Post yesterday by Christina Hoag.
The Los Angeles Times clarified:... Judge Steve Malone ruled that the Adelanto School District improperly allowed 97 parents at Desert Trails Elementary School to rescind their signatures, which caused support for the petition to drop below the required 50% threshold.
Under regulations adopted last fall by the state Board of Education, Malone ruled, the parent trigger law does not allow recisions and explicitly states that parents "shall be free from ... being encouraged to revoke their signatures on a petition."
Carlos Mendoza, above, president of the Adelanto Unified Elementary Board, told the Los Angeles Times that he will recommend the board appeal the decision.
Mendoza said he did not oppose a charter school per se, so long as the school board and community have input into the choice of an operator. But he said he remained concerned that Parent Revolution and the affiliated parent group, Desert Trails Parent Union, had misled parents by presenting two petitions for them to sign. The first asked for district reforms, while the second requested a charter school.
Organizers had told parents that the preferred option was district reforms and that as leverage to get them, the charter school petition was also being circulated.
"We are concerned about bait and switch, that they can do it and get away with it," Mendoza said.
Writing on EdSource, John Fensterwald reports that the State Board of Education briefly discussed [and then] chose not to inlude in the [parent trigger] regulations a requirement for hearings on a parent trigger petition in order to publicly air the facts and promises and "anticipated charges of misrepresentation on both sides" that may be set forth in a petition. "That dilemma," comments Fensterwald, "remains unresolved."
[For some spirited debate on the issue of charter school operators and the parent trigger law, read the comments on Fensterwald's posting here.]
Parent Revolution, on its website, calls the decision "history making." It is seen as a key victory for charter schools v. teachers' unions and school boards in the test of the "parent trigger" law. See prior coverage below for details.
UPDATE, April 9, 2012: Parents at Desert Trails Elementary, following the Adelanto Elementary School District board's unanimous rejection twice in the last two months of their petition for charter status under the parent trigger law, have filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino County Superior Court alleging the board violated their federal and state constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection, reports the LA Times.
The LA Times, addressing the parent trigger law in a weekend editorial, writes that it's unclear whether California's pioneering but sloppily constructed law parent trigger law will provide the path to parent empowerment after all.
UPDATE, March 8, 2012: Parents resubmitted signatures to the Adelanto Elementary School District board on Tuesday to petition for charter status at Desert Trails Elementary School under the parent trigger law, reports Teresa Watanabe of the LA Times.
The resubmitted signatures on the Parent Empowerment Petition represent 53.9% of students, according to Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based education advocacy organization that helped them with their campaign.
The Adelanto case has drawn national attention as some 20 other states have considered similar parent trigger laws. If officials approve the petition, it could mark the state’s first successful use of the 2010 law. Under the law, the Adelanto district has 25 days to verify the signatures. If the school board accepts the petition – which could come at the next board meeting March 20 – Rose said Desert Trails parents would move forward to select a charter school operator. “We want to do it in a process of partnership with the district,” he said.
Assistant Supt. Ross Swearingen said the district’s priority was to follow the law throughout the verification process “so it’s all handled cleanly and legally.”
UPDATE, March 2, 2012: Adelanto School Board's denial of a charter for Desert Trails Elementary School (see background stories below) isn't going to be the end of the story: evidence has come forth in the last week, claiming that "teachers unions and their allies" may have falsified "rescission" documents that led to the apparent lack of majority support (of the parents). (After the petition drive, it was claimed that 97 parents had rescinded their original petitions, thus depriving the trigger of the needed majority.)
According to the blog, Texans for Parental Choice in Education, the alleged fraud came to light only because "someone was sloppy enough to file two versions of the same parent's recission, one without, and with one, the [reasons for recission] boxes checked."
In the Desert Trails parking lot and at front doors across Adelanto, strangers confronted parents and spread untruths about the trigger drive: that it would force the immediate closure of Desert Trails, for example, or result in the firing of all teachers, or cause certain children to be expelled. Some parents heard the trigger drive was an embezzlement scheme. Others had their immigration status questioned.
Trigger supporters suspect the malign influence of the California Teachers Association. Such bullying fits into its familiar anti-trigger playbook, and the untruth squads (which generally refused to identify themselves) pinpointed parents and ginned up rescissions with amazing efficiency over merely a few days.
At least three Adelanto parents have also signed affidavits swearing that the rescission documents bearing their signatures were doctored before being delivered (in photocopied form) to the district.
The Los Angeles law firm of Kirkland & Ellis has taken the parents' case pro bono (K&E is also representing parents in a trigger battle at Compton USD); LA Weekly quotes attorney Mark Holscher as follows:
"What we are presenting here is smoking-gun evidence that these 'rescission documents' have fabrication and forgeries. We have these smoking-gun pieces because someone was careless. We don't know at this time how many other 'rescission documents' were falsified or altered. We've requested the District Attorney's office conduct a criminal investigation. Forging or falsifying documents related to an election is a serious matter. It is critical to note that ... even with these illegal 'rescissions,' we still have more than 50 percent of the parents. We are requesting on behalf of the parents by writing to the district that they reconsider and approve this petition. If they don't we'll pursue all legal grounds on behalf of these parents."
UPDATE, FEBRUARY 22, 2012: The Los Angeles Times, in a story by Teresa Watanabe, reports this morning that the Adelanto School Board voted 5-0 last night to deny the charter for Desert Trails Elementary School, which had been the subject of a "parent trigger" petition drive. The number of signatures was insufficient after some were disqualified and a significant number were rescinded by the parents who had signed.
The Adelanto effort began several months ago, when former school board member Lisa Marie Garcia and former Desert Trails Principal Larry Lewis informed parents about the law. The group, frustrated by the difficulty of removing ineffective teachers and the school's low test scores, among other issues, wanted to use the law to acquire the power to hire a principal with a freer hand to hire and fire teachers....
The parents contacted Parent Revolution... that lobbied for the law, to help them organize and train...rather than presenting one petition for a charter school, Desert Trails parents presented two — one to make changes within the district and another to convert to a charter. Parents preferred district reforms as outlined in the first petition, but turned in the charter petition to pressure the school district to embrace the requested changes, according to Parent Revolution Organizing Director Pat DeTemple. Parent leader Cynthia Ramirez said the strategy was clearly explained to parents, verbally and in written material. ... at least some parents said they did not understand what they were signing.
UPDATE, FEBRUARY 21, 2012: CBS News reports that today is the deadline for the Adelanto School District to "meet the demands of parents who want major changes" at the Desert Trails Elementary School (see full story below).
Armed with 280 signed petitions, the parents in Adelanto are demanding the school district hire a principal of their choosing, one with greater authority to hire and fire teachers.
Current principal David Mobley has only been on the job for 4 months. He wants more time to fix things.
"It's learning how to work within the system. And that's my job as an administrator, work the system and make sure you're getting quality in every classroom. And as far as can I make that happen overnight? No, it's going to be a process," Mobley said.
JANUARY 12, 2012: Radio's California Report this morning covered the story of the Adelanto (San Bernardino County) School District (audio below), in which parents have compiled enough signatures on a petition to present to the district, demanding that Desert Trails Elementary School school be turned over to a charter operator. Desert Trails' test scores rank in the lowest 10% of the state.
The San Francisco Chronicle picked up Christina Hoag's Associated Press story on Desert Trails, adding:
The parents were directed by Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that spearheaded the parent trigger law and Compton campaign. It guided the parents on organizing tactics and petition writing, but has not led the effort, said Ben Austin, executive director.
"From beginning to end, this has been a parent-led process," he said.