Parents petition for control of failing Los Angeles school

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 17, 2013 7:48 PM

By Brandon Lowrey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Parents seeking to take control of a failing Los Angeles elementary school delivered hundreds of petitions to the nation's second-largest school system on Thursday, invoking the California's controversial "parent trigger" law to force change.

Parents representing 68 percent of the school's students signed on to the petition, well over the 50 percent level required to set in motion a process that could ultimately see the 24th Street Elementary School turned into a privately managed charter, organizers of the effort said.

The move represents a repudiation of the largest school district in a state that in 2010 became the first to pass a law that lets parents of students in failing schools band together to force sweeping change: They can fire teachers, oust administrators or turn the school over to private management.

It remained unclear which option, if any, the parents at the largely poor and minority 24th Street school would take.

"We're tired of hearing excuses," said Laura Wade, a mother of a 24th Street kindergartner, who said her child has had more than a dozen different teachers over a six-month period. "We're tired of being pushed back. We need a change, now."

The effort was organized Parent Revolution, a non-profit that recently led the state's first successful parent takeover of a public school in the desert city of Adelanto. The school board there agreed last week to transform the struggling Desert Trails Elementary School into a charter.

Critics of the parent trigger law say it can divide communities and lead to the privatization of public schools, while proponents say it empowers parents to improve their children's educational opportunities.

Other states, including Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Connecticut, Indiana and Ohio, have since passed similar laws, while other states debate them.

Los Angeles schools Superintendent John Deasy said the district had already identified 24th Street as a bottom-tier school that needed to be improved and was working with parents to formulate a plan to improve the school.

If a plan is ultimately approved by the superintendent, the school could become a pilot school or a privately operated charter, district officials said. Deasy said he welcomes the parent trigger effort.

"I would love to have this kind of parent involvement at every school," Deasy said.

Warren Fletcher, union president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the parent trigger law was a poor tool to fix troubled schools but acknowledged parents had legitimate concerns.

"The problem with parent trigger is it's sort of like the neutron bomb. (It's) a blunt instrument and it can result in either nothing happening, which is unacceptable, or eliminating the entire faculty, which is extremely unwise," he said.

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)