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Giving Public Schools a Black Eye

At a time when public schools need all the support they can get from taxpayers, their cause was set back by the unfolding of events in a small Mojave community. On July 20, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled that parents in the Adelanto Elementary School District had the right to take control of the Desert Trails Elementary School under California's parent trigger law ("Judge Backs Push for Charter School," The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 24).

When the parent trigger was passed in 2010, it seemed perfectly clear. If a majority of parents sign a petition, a school can be forced to close or be converted to a charter. In either case, the change could involve replacing the principal and the teachers. But the school board rejected the parents' petition, claiming that there was an insufficient number of valid signatures. That's because some parents asked that their signatures be removed after citing a campaign of "deceit and harassment" ("Ruling supports Adelanto charter school effort," Los Angeles Times, Jul. 24).

It's still unclear who was behind the campaign, but the school board's attempt to nullify the will of parents by challenging the number of valid signatures is shameful. Its action calls into question the willingness of school officials to follow the law when their self-interest is involved. The Superior Court judge agreed, saying that the attempt to undermine the parents "amounts to an abuse of discretion."

The district's action is all the more indefensible because Desert Trails Elementary was classified as failing for six consecutive years, with 70 percent of 6th graders not proficient in English or math. But even if the school had a better record, it's still the right of parents to make changes. By denying them the right, the board further exacerbated the frustration and anger felt by too many parents about the education their children are receiving.

I'm not defending the attempt to confuse parents to sign or not sign a petition. On the contrary. However, referendums are a regular part of the political system in California. Both sides have always tried to convince voters to support their agenda by resorting to questionable tactics. I remember vividly the duel over Proposition 13. But in the final analysis, voters are responsible for informing themselves about the issues involved. I fail to see why parents in the Adelanto Elementary School District should be made an exception. The process was fully explained in English and Spanish in person, in the material left with every family and on the petition itself.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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