Desert Trails parents choose charter operator, next step in 'parent trigger'

October 19, 2012

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.

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