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Court Upholds Parent-Trigger Petition at California School

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An Orange County, Calif., judge has ordered the Anaheim City School District to reverse its denial of a petition from parents at Palm Lane Elementary School seeking to convert the low-performing school into a charter through the state's parent-trigger law. 

Under California's Parent Empowerment Act, a school is subject to the law if it meets certain requirements, including failing to make adequate yearly progress after one year and having a state Academic Performance Index score of less than 800.

The Anaheim City School District's board initially rejected the petition in February, stating Palm Lane did not fall under the definition of a subject school and that the parents did not follow the petition instructions when they submitted it, according to a press release from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the law firm representing the parents.

In his July 16 decision, Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks found Palm Lane Elementary to be a school subject to the law and the petition valid. Banks said the school's "performance over 10 of the last 11 years as measured by legislatively imposed standards can be described as abysmal."

The judge ordered the school board to accept the petition within 20 days. The school district also must allow the petitioners to begin the selection process for charter school proposals.

The district filed a lawsuit against the parents in order to seek clarity from the courts, it said in a statement. The district said the state of California had not performed an adequate yearly progress report on Palm Lane for 2014, and a 2015 report had not been released yet. That caused confusion on whether or not the school was subject to the law, the district said.

The parents believed Palm Lane fit the definition of a subject school despite the lack of testing in 2014. They responded with their own lawsuit against the district in order to be allowed to receive charter school proposals. The judge ruled in favor of the petitioning parents.

 "In speaking for all the Palm Lane Elementary parents, we are grateful for Judge Banks' ruling and his support of our efforts for our children to receive the basic education they are entitled to and deserve," said Celilia Ochoa, one of the lead petitioners, in the law firm's news release.

In a statement, Linda Wagner, superintendent of the Anaheim district, said the lawsuit and ruling send a couple of messages.

"First, the parent trigger law presents many ambiguities for local governing boards which warrant the attention of the legislature," she said. "Second, we believe this decision sends a clear message that more clear and collaborative communication with parent groups is of paramount importance."

In their campaign, Palm Lane Elementary parents gathered support from many in favor of the parent-trigger law. They included former state Sen. Gloria Romero, author of the law and head of the California Center for Parent Empowerment.

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