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Parents gather 'parent trigger' signatures a second time after LAUSD doesn’t make changes

Standing desks are seen in a classroom at Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif.
Standing desks are seen in a classroom at Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif.

Saying they're fed up by the slow pace of change, parents at a southeast Los Angeles elementary school have gathered signatures for "parent trigger" petitions for the second time to force the Los Angeles Unified School District to turn the campus over to a charter school operator. 

It's the first time that California's parent trigger law has been used as a tool to force change twice at the same school. The law, which was passed in 2010, compels school districts to carry out a major overhaul of a campus – including turning over to an outside operator – if a majority of parents seek the change. 

Parents at 20th St. Elementary School first organized in 2014, but decided not to formally submit their petition when LAUSD administrators proposed an improvement plan that included promises to improve the administration of the school, provide teachers with professional development, and use data to measure teaching and learning.

“They said, ‘don’t turn them in; let’s drop the plan. Let’s see how we can all work together and make changes,'” said Lupe Aragon, whose daughter attends fourth grade at 20th St. Elementary. 

During the last round of state testing, just 19 percent of the school's students met standards in English and 20 percent met standards in math. Aragon said she and other parents had been frustrated by the school's continued low-performance and lack of rigor displayed in her daughter's and other student's course work.

“She was taking home math problems that were basically for first and second graders, additions that were only one digit,” Aragon said. 

Now, 20th St. Elementary parents – along with the activist group that helped craft the law and has worked to organize parents at schools around the state – argue that the district has failed to fulfill any of the improvement plan's commitments. 

“Parents basically felt like once they took the pressure off the system that the petitions represented, the system went right back to ignoring them,” said Seth Litt, executive director of the activist group, Parent Revolution.

In particular, the parents submitting the petition allege that LAUSD has failed to appoint a new principal with a strong track record on school improvement and to provide the training to school staff that it had promised. 

LAUSD officials would not comment on the petition other than to say school district administrators are reviewing the documents.

The petition, which was submitted to LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King earlier this week, contains signatures from families of 58 percent of the students in the school. 

Now it’s up to L.A. Unified to verify the signatures. Once that’s done it’ll be up to the board to approve a charter school operator.

Since the parent trigger law went into effect in 2010, Parent Revolution says that petitions have been submitted to force change in schools in six California schools, including three in Los Angeles. Threat of parent trigger petitions have also been used as a bargaining tool to promote changes in an additional five schools, including the first attempt at 20th St. Elementary.