Sylvia is a single mom with two daughters who attend Palm Lane elementary school in Anaheim. She one of the parents who signed the petition to convert Palm Lane into a charter school under California’s parent trigger law. She told the Anaheim City School Board that one of her daughters is in fourth grade but reads at the level of a kindergarten student. It is not always easy for Sylvia. For a time she was even homeless. Now she is fighting for the future of her children against the very people who ought to be doing everything they can to help her.
I attended the meeting of the Anaheim City School Board held on February 19, 2015 when it turned down, on a 5-0 vote, the petitions signed by parents representing 488 students from Palm Lane School. It did not take long to figure out which special interests control this school board; two union representatives were given the floor ahead of all other speakers. The teachers’ union representative spent her time criticizing the 2010 enactment of the Parent Trigger Law, one of the few times in recent decades when the California Teachers Association did not control a vote of the State Legislature. The Anaheim school board’s behavior demonstrates that it views the Parent Trigger Law the same way its unions do; instead of helping parents to enforce their rights under State Law, as public servants should, the board sees its duty as defeating the parents’ efforts to invoke the law.
Palm Lane School has been identified as a failing school since 2003. The last time testing was done, in 2013, the score was 746—a failing score. In 2014 no testing was performed. This was not unique to Palm Lane; a federal waiver applied to all California schools. Based on this, it was announced at the February 19 School Board meeting that the State had not determined in 2014 that Palm Lane School was still failing. The union members who had packed the audience broke out in applause. I suppose they have a different definition of success in education than the rest of us. The School Board says non-testing in 2014 is a sufficient reason to deny parent requests for relief under parent trigger. The courts will decide.
The parents obtained a lot more signatures than the 50% required to exercise their parent trigger rights. But the Board disqualified so many—over 100—that it found only 48.3% were valid, but now it won’t provide the evidence the parents need to test its numbers. For example, the District disqualified ninety-five of the signers because they had moved away, were duplicates, or could not be found in the system. Which signers? When did they move away? Getting the evidence is important because every school has turnover, and if a signer moved away after the petitions were turned in, the signature should not have been disqualified.
So far, the School Board refuses to answer these questions or provide the required evidence. In fact, when a person working for the parents went by the District office to ask for the evidence the day after the Board handed down its decision, the District not only made him wait all day without giving him the evidence, but it called the police to make him leave! On Monday, a different employee working for the parents, accompanied by one of the parent leaders, went together back to the District and asked again for the back-up evidence. Same result; the District is refusing to turn over the evidence that the parents need to exercise their rights under Parent Trigger.
The parents will get the evidence eventually, but the School Board evidently thinks these silly tactics give them an advantage in the war against the predominantly Hispanic parents and their children who go to their schools. And they enjoy the fact that your tax money gives them a war chest that is impossible for the volunteer parents fighting them to match. They are right about that. How does that make you feel?
Here is another example. According to the District, the parents failed to comply with Parent Trigger regulations requiring that the petitions (1) identify lead petitioners who will assist the District in ascertaining the validity of the signatures, and (2) attaching the complete text of regulation 4804, which defines that remedy selected by the parents. The parents dispute this, so once again, the Board has forced another issue into court.
Setting aside the legal issues, the District’s behavior is deplorable. The District knew who the lead plaintiffs were; they had spoken in the media, and even attended a few of District’s small meetings for parents, evidently held to convince them they had made a bad decision in signing the petition even though there is no procedure for signature rescission. The District acknowledges that it also saw a reference to an “attachment” of section 4804 to the English version of the petition. And the Parent Trigger regulations specifically require that, before making a decision on the petition, the District must give the parents notice in writing. All this is to say why not simply pick up the telephone and ask the parents’ representatives, “Where is the list of lead petitioners? And can we see a copy of the attachments that were shown to petition signers?” It would have been common sense for anyone interested in treating the parents fairly to do that. But the District has no interest in fairness for Palm Lane parents. It views the parents as its enemies, and its objective is victory over them.
Why do Californians continue to allow unions to run our public schools? Where normally people would expect civility and common sense from elected officials, we see open warfare against the most vulnerable among us. This culture comes from the public sector unions. It does not have to be this way.
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Bob Loewen is the chairman of the California Policy Center.