With a low voter turnout Thursday, parents exercising a “parent trigger” option at the Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto selected a charter operator in nearby Hesperia to run their school starting next August. The selection of LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, a small K-8 charter with an API of 911 – more than 200 points above Desert Trails’ score of 699 this year – marked the next stage in parents’ contentious and protracted exercise of California’s parent empowerment law.

Teachers at the school, who may lose their jobs in the conversion to a charter school, as well as parents opposing the move, will seize on the vote by only 53 parents. Last spring, 286 parents, representing a majority of the students enrolled in the K-5 school, signed the petition that gave them the power to determine how to transform their low-performing school. But the district resisted the effort, and the school board sought to invalidate many of the parent signatures. Legal fights pushed plans for a charter conversion back a year. With last year’s sixth grade moving on and some families in the economically depressed Mojave Desert area relocating, the Desert Trails Parents Union could certify only 180 parents eligible to vote yesterday, according to David Phelps, a spokesman for Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that has organized parent groups around the parent trigger law.

Whether the vote by less than a third of the remaining parents can be attributed to disaffection with the charter conversion proposal, as opponents claim, or continuing intimidation of parents with children in the school, as the Desert Trails Parents Union has asserted, will continue to be argued. (The district just happened to schedule a rally for Adelanto schools at a skating rink yesterday afternoon.)

The vote on Thursday was on a choice between two charter operators that responded to an open invitation by the Desert Trails parents: LaVerne Academy and Lewis Center for Academic Excellence, a science-oriented school with three campuses in Apple Valley that also operates a dual-immersion elementary charter in the city of San Bernadino. Doreen Diaz, a parent leader, said that the choice was difficult;  deciding factors were the welcoming school culture and the success that LaVerne Academy has had with minority children. Nearly all of Desert Trails’ students are low-income; two-thirds are Hispanic, and nearly a quarter are African-American. At LaVerne Academy, about 60 percent are low-income; half are Hispanic and 40 percent are white. The school has a traditional approach to education, including requiring Latin for all students and an emphasis on memorization in early grades.

The Desert Trails Parents Union and LaVerne Academy must now take the proposal for a charter to  the Adelanto Elementary School District board, which has been antagonistic to the parent empowerment movement, and, if rejected there, to the San Bernardino County Board of Education or the State Board of Education. The parents already have won two big court decisions this year that will help future parent groups exercise the parent trigger. In July, a San Bernadino County Superior Court judge ruled that, under state regulations, a district cannot rescind signatures of parents once they’ve been submitted on a parent trigger petition. The district had presented forms showing that dozens of parents had withdrawn their signatures after changing their minds about the parent trigger; attorneys for Parent Revolution argued the signature withdrawals were fraudulent or that parents had been coerced to withdraw their names. Earlier this month, another Superior Court judge ruled that the Adelanto school board had to accept the option for school transformation – in this case a charter conversion – selected by parents under a parent trigger petition.

Filed under: Charter Schools, Featured, Parent Activism, Parent Trigger, Parents, Reporting & Analysis · Tags: ,

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  1. Setting aside for a moment the fact that I don’t think this kind of vote is appropriate policy-setting for public institution, I’m not sure I understand the rationale for excluding non-petitioners from the vote. Isn’t it similar to finding your candidate didn’t make it to the run-off vote? You still get a vote in the runoff. If the ultimate decision should have the support of a (supposed) majority of the parents, why are some parents disenfranchised at this crucial step in the process?

  2. CarolineSF says:

    Adelanto has previous experience with a charter school. Sounds like it didn’t work out really well.


  3. CarolineSF says:

    Similarly, when I said the school community is divided and distracted and that that’s never good for a school, I was referring to the students. The discussion was in context of the possible impact of the brouhaha on student test scores, so inherently, it addresses the impact on the students.

  4. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Isn’t it telling that all the comments here focus on which adult did what to whom, and none touched on the hope that, perhaps, as the outcome of this painful string of events, some Desert Trails kids will at least get an improved education?

    1. navigio says:

      Actually, there were some comments asking about the impact on the kids (thats what i meant by ‘the school itself’). Regardless, imho, a divisive parent environment is poison for a school. So based on that alone, as well as the apparent expectation that many of the current parents will leave, I expect this process will be a significant net negative. If the goal is to ‘measure’ the impact on the kids via things like test scores, I’m not sure that will be possible given how the population will likely change as a result of this.
      But I agree with you in one sense: parents make too many ‘school’ decisions for themselves, without thinking about what is best for their kids. In that sense, you’re right that its telling.

  5. Wallmart democracy: ONLY 53 people in a city of 31,765 ( 0.16% of Adelento residents) got to vote on privatizing a public school. That is the so-called Parent Trigger in action. Ben Austin and Gloria Romero have accomplished what the Walton, DeVos, Koch, and Broad families have been dreaming of for decades.

    The distinguished Professor Diane Ravitch wrote a quick piece entitled “Ironies of the First Parent Trigger” on her blog that contains some powerful facts about this unfortunate event. One fact it doesn’t contain is that pariah Doreen Diaz, who Austin and staff handpicked to front their “parent” efforts, will have no children enrolled in the school when the private operator takes over the school. That is the biggest irony of all.

  6. navigio says:

    I am interested, probably more than anything, on the impact this ‘fight’ is having on the school itself. I noticed that its scores have been declining and that their enrollment is down, though not clear whether it is a function of this chaos. What gets lost in all of this it the impact on the school itself of this process. That would be useful info, imho.

    1. Changemaker says:

      Desert Trails has been in Program Improvement for the past eight, I repeat eight years. The impact on the school can only be positive in the hands of someone other than a board who defies court orders.

    2. navigio says:

      “At Desert Trails, more than 600 students and 286 parents signed a petition last year seeking a charter conversion. Accounting for parents who had since left the school, 180 were eligible to vote. Parents who did not sign the petition were not eligible.

      Some parents who fiercely oppose the conversion have vowed to pull their children out of the school next fall.

      “I want nothing to do with the people behind it,” said parent Maggie Flamenco.”

      I guess that answers the question..


    3. CarolineSF says:

      The scores have bumped up and down a bit and dropped from 2011 to 2012. Who knows if the fight impacts the scores. The school community is certainly divided — and distracted — which is never good for a school.

      The news coverage of this entire issue is such a perfect example of the fact that there are wildly different ways to tell a story. All references to “Desert Trails parents win” should, for accuracy, indisputably say “… a faction of Desert Trails parents win.” It’s in dispute whether that faction is a majority or not — so how can non-advocacy reporting refer to one of the factions as though it represents the whole parent community?

      1. CarolineSF says:

        Actually, “a faction of Desert Trails parents wins.” Shame on my copy editing.

  7. CarolineSF says:

    About 100 parents asked to rescind their signatures from the original petitions, apparently due to the brouhaha over the two petitions. A court ruled that the parents cannot rescind their signatures.

    That’s a different way of describing this: “But the district resisted the effort, and the school board sought to invalidate many of the parent signatures…. a San Bernadino County Superior Court judge ruled that, under state regulations, a district cannot rescind signatures of parents once they’ve been submitted on a parent trigger petition.”

  8. Bea says:

    Respectfully John, every story about Desert Trails should include the fact that there were TWO petitions, one calling for an inclusive and collaborative overhaul of the school and one for a charter school. The majority of Desert Trails parents preferred the former, based on earlier stories in the press (before the spin campaign from Austin, et al).

    Parent Revolution made the call to present only the petition for a charter school, telling parents it was for “leverage”. Parents sought to rescind their signatures only after the petition bait and switch. Even Gloria Romero was quoted expressing concern about the divisive strategy.

    Since you mention disaffection for the charter proposal, you should include why that disaffection exists.

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      I was looking for ways to minimize the history for this piece, but you’re right: It is a key piece of information. I do believe that the Adelanto folks spread the message of the purpose of the two-petition approach to parents and that the organizers turned to the petition for a charter when the deadline for a long lead needed to open a charter in September 2012 arrived (as it turned out, litigation pushed it into 2013 anyway), but I also agree the tactic had a big potential for confusion.