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Potential Parent-Trigger School in California Takes Next Step

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Organizers and supporters of an Anaheim, Calif., school's parent-trigger campaign say they have collected enough petition signatures to force the local district to allow them to convert their low-performing elementary school into a charter.

Palm Lane Elementary School parents have collected signatures from 64 percent of the parents of the roughly 750 students enrolled at the school to support their efforts, according to Alfonso Flores, chief executive officer of the Hesperia, Calif.-based consulting firm Excellent Educational Solutions. Flores, a former organizer with the parent-trigger advocacy group Parent Revolution, said the parents would submit the petitions to Anaheim City School District officials Wednesday morning.

Under California's Parent Empowerment Act, more than 50 percent of parents whose children attend chronically underperforming schools need to support the petition to enact academic changes, which include replacing the principal or transforming the school into a charter. 

Former State Sen. Gloria Romero, who authored the parent-trigger law and has since founded a nonprofit to support parents seeking to use it to turn around their schools, has been advising Palm Lane parents. Her nonprofit, the California Center for Parent Empowerment, contracted with Flores to provide parents with guidance. 

Romero told me that she had hoped when the Parent Empowerment Act was adopted in 2010 that parents could use the law on their own. But Romero said the complexities involved in understanding the law and crafting a petition that is aligned to meet its legal requirements are challenging. She said her nonprofit intends to help educate the parents of children attending failing schools about the law so they can understand their options. 

"It's not enough to write a law and walk away," Romero said. "When parents understand the law," she said, "they can use it. It doesn't take a whole lot of convincing."

In a California Center for Parent Empowerment press release, Palm Lane parent Magdalena Romero said: "We are grateful to all who stood with us and who are genuinely concerned about our children. Sadly, the district only cares about adult needs and about keeping the status quo alive. It is our hope that parents everywhere will follow our lead and seek a better education for their children."

The Anaheim City School District has 40 days to verify the signatures, Flores said. Once that process is complete, the parents will accept requests for proposals from those interested in helping to improve Palm Lane Elementary—from charter school companies and nonprofits to the district itself. 

"If the district offers the parents a great plan, they'll accept," Flores said, noting that a neighboring elementary school in the Anaheim district is excelling.

But Palm Lane parents and school district leaders may not have the best relationship. The Orange County, Calif., District Attorney's Office has been contacted twice regarding allegations that Palm Lane parents were being intimidated and harassed by school district officials as they sought signatures for the petitions. Anaheim City School District Superintendent Linda Wagner told the Orange County Register in December that the district merely wanted to caution parents to read the petitions carefully.

Still, Flores said comments made by Anaheim City School District Board President Bob Gardner in a recent Orange County Register story has given parents some hope that the district will be more cooperative in the future. Three of the school board's five members are new.

Gardner told the newspaper: "I'm very, very disappointed that families felt the need to go this route, and I see that as a breakdown for us, that they didn't feel they could come to us to try to improve our school." 

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