‘Trigger’ parents charge intimidation

Using California’s new “parent trigger” law, 63 percent of Compton parents signed a  petition to turn their chronically low-performing elementary school over to a successful charter network.  Now parents and activists are charging school officials with intimidation and harassment.

Parents said they were informed that every person who signed must come to the school on Wednesday and Thursday for a five-minute meeting with district employees, and must present photo identification and sign a new petition. If people do not show up for any reason, their signature will be eliminated, parents said.

Some parents can’t make the meetings because of work commitments. Others in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood don’t have photo ID because they’re illegal immigrants.

“It’s not about verification! It is purely about disenfranchisement,” said state Sen. Gloria Romero, who sponsored the parent trigger law.

“This is clearly not about ‘verifying’ anything — it is about the district making up new rules to try to throw away the petitions that we have already submitted,” said Ismenia Guzman, a leader of McKinley Parents for Change.

Parents who signed the petition have complained they’ve been threatened with deportation and told the charter school will not take special education students.  Two parents filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department saying their children were harassed by teachers because their parents had signed the petition.

District staffers complain the petition drive was conducted in secret and that nobody at the school knew about the petition till it was presented. They claim parents didn’t understand what they were signing.

Parent Revolution didn’t inform the school district about the petition drive, but organizers must have contacted a very high percentage of parents to get so many to sign. They must have asked parents to help spread the word. Parents had to be talking about it for weeks. And yet, apparently, not a single parent told a teacher or another school staffer about the petition.  Imagine an elementary school in which parents don’t talk to teachers or ask questions.  That’s a very strange environment.

Parent Revolution, founded by a former member of the state board of education,  has a law firm working pro bono.  I don’t think the district will get away with throwing out the signatures.

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  1. “Parents had to be talking about it for weeks. And yet, apparently, not a single parent told a teacher or another school staffer about the petition. Imagine an elementary school in which parents don’t talk to teachers or ask questions. That’s a very strange environment.”

    Compton Unified is a strange place. As it happens, however, the school and teachers were not unaware of the petition drive. The civil rights complaints to which you refer detail alleged threats, intimidation and misinformation in the weeks leading up to Dec. 7, when parents submitted their petition to the district, and afterward.

    The environment you describe is, apparently, not unlike a workplace targeted for a union card check campaign. Ben Austin, the director of the Parent Revolution, has used the card check analogy often. In this case, the teachers union and its surrogates in the local PTA and district office are “management.”

    District officials have a real problem here. They’re using tactics they would otherwise denounce, that at the very least run afoul of the emergency parent trigger regulations passed last year, and probably violate a raft of laws.

    The parents actually have two law firms working for them: Kirkland & Ellis and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where only the biggest sharks with the sharpest teeth go to swim.

  2. CarolineSF says:

    I can’t speak to how Compton Unified determined this particular process for verifying signatures. It seems rather evident that they would need to verify signatures before meekly handing the keys to a public institution over to a private charter operator (one pre-selected by Parent Revolution, the billionaire-backed, charter-operator-run organization that targeted McKinley Elementary and orchestrated the campaign). What would their options be? Phone calls would be an obvious one, and we don’t know why that was ruled out. Any other ideas?

    But the big picture is that this chaos was 100% guaranteed by the Parent Trigger law, which is obviously unworkable from the viewpoint of anyone who has ever been part of or familiar with a school community.

    Parent Revolution does hold all the cards here — amply funded by billionaires and corporate titans, supported by most of the local and state political leadership, purporting to speak on behalf of downtrodden, low-income parents, part of the juggernaut that vilifies and blames teachers and schools for the harmful impacts of poverty on children and families. A struggling school in a struggling district is far overmatched, especially in the absence of any guidance within the law on procedures in this extraordinary situation.

    As to the balance of power, here’s an apt quote from a Los Angeles teacher:

    In the topsy-turvy current “education reform” storyline, he says, “The richest and most powerful people in the U.S. are cast as a plucky band of selfless rebels fighting for the civil rights of poor children of color, while dedicated and overworked teachers who can’t afford a house or pay for their children’s college tuition are imagined to be the greedy overlords of the old order.”

    It’s revealing that a staffer from the far-right, free-market Heartland Institute has been posting commentaries on the McKinley Parent Trigger around the Internet. His commentaries point out that the Heartland Institute supports eliminating public education and applaud the Parent Trigger as a step toward achieving that goal.

    And by the way, it’s not accurate that Parent Revolution was founded by a former member of the State Board of Education. Former SBOE member Ben Austin is its executive director, but it was founded by Steve Barr and Green Dot, the charter operator, who hired Austin. Funded by an array of billionaires and corporate titans, Parent Revolution has ample resources at its disposal, so it’s surprising that a law firm would provide services pro bono when Parent Revolution can easily afford to pay full retail. It makes you wonder if that law firm has been given accurate information on who its client is.

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Sorry to omit a piece — Steve Barr is the founder of Green Dot.

    Also, by the way, Parent Revolution has a public relations firm, the Rose Group of Culver City, representing it, while it’s evident that the Compton school district lacks the wherewithal for anything resembling effective PR. So Parent Revolution holds all the cards in the publicity game too. It would be nice if thoughtful education bloggers saw past that and bestirred themselves a bit to get the fuller picture, but clearly that’s not likely to happen.

  4. cranberry says:

    With a 2009 API “similar schools” ranking of 1, according to Greatschools, there doesn’t seem to be anything to save in the current setup. It would be very hard to do worse.

  5. Thanks for providing the party line CarolineSF but if the schools in Compton didn’t suck Compton parents would’ve responded with a hearty, “what the heck for?” at the suggestion that the district relinquish control of the school.

  6. CarolineSF says:

    I don’t have a party, Allen.

    Obviously, the Compton schools — like so many other schools that cope with a critical mass of at-risk, high-need, low-income students, with inadequate resources — are struggling.

    Still, the SUPPORTERS of the Parent Trigger* are gloating about how this process has ignited “civil war” among the parents in the school community.

    Igniting civil war in a challenged, vulnerable community is not beneficial to the children or the community. That’s why I say it’s obviously an unworkable process.

    *I refer to the Los Angeles Weekly, a fiery right-libertarian advocacy publication that has positioned itself as the strongest supporter of the Parent Trigger, and has covered the entirely process closely.

  7. Congratulations to the parents in Compton for trying to facilitate change at this permanentaly low performing school. Whatever the catalyst, whatever the outcome, they deserve credit for using the tools available to them however blunt or ineffective. I wonder how long the exiting administration and teachers (and their union) would have been content to fail at their mission: probably forever as long as they were being paid, at least if we can judge by past behavior.

    It is amusing to read folks like CarolineSF villify those people trying to effect change with no sense of irony or shame.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    It is not a sincere effort to effect change, Stacy in NJ. I’ve been following Parent Revolution for as long as they’ve been around. It’s an effort to turn a public institution over to a private operator and get those public dollars funneled into private pockets.

    Well, I guess that counts as a sincere effort to effect change. It’s not a sincere effort to effect change that will improve the education of Compton students; it’s a sincere effort to positively impact the bank balances of opportunistic charter operators.

  9. CarlineSF, So what? So what if they get rich; so what if they’re opportunistic? Will the kids be better served? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t really know. We do know that what the powers that be have been doing for God knows how many years is a complete and utter failure. Public school teachers, their unions, the adminstrator of these schools, and the rah-rah crowd surrounding them have zero credibility at this point. When will they be held accountable for their failures? Of course, they are never responsible; it’s always because of poverty, poor funding, poor community involvement, poor parenting. The fact that there are charters all of the US know successfully serving those same populations doesn’t matter either. Those charters are cherry picking or lying. I’m sure you’ll some excuse for why those kids have been attending shit schools that has nothing to do with the crappy training their teachers received or their poor performance, or the lack of acountability from the administrators, or the union’s resistance to any type of positive change that have trapped this kids in this school for the convience of those adults.

    I hope the charter schools, voucher programs, and virtural schools eat your lunch, and I hope the kids and parents at Compton are the first ones to dig in.

  10. Of course you have a party CarolineSF. You’re obviously a member of the “don’t change a thing” party. Trouble is, things have got to change.

    Whatever problems the Compton area has the parents are the same as parents everywhere. They just want two things from a school; keep my kids safe, teach my kid what they’ll need as when they grow up.

    The Compton school district’s incompetent at both those tasks so the question ought’nt to be why the parents of this particular school decided to exercise their prerogatives under the law but why every parent in the Compton district isn’t doing the same?

    Here’s a thought to make your blood run cold CarolineSF – somebody’s got to be first. Maybe those Compton parents will talk to other Compton parents. When the realization starts to take hold among those parents that, for the first time since their child started attending public school, they get to exercise some parental prerogatives, they will.

    Makes me smile just think about the hysteria even the thought will engender among the noble defenders of the Compton status quo.

  11. Judge Crater says:

    I would be shocked if “CarolineSF” was not Caroline Grannan. Caroline Grannan is very well known on school-related sites here in San Francisco for vehemently defender of the status quo in public education. Except, of course, that the public schools should get more funding. She is also notorious for “flooding the zone” with prolific posts to attempt to drown out opposing views.

    “Grannan is more than just a concerned parent. She is a founding member of the San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools, a PTA board member, and a prolific writer whose articles about local schools appear in the San Francisco Examiner and other publications. She has argued passionately against both vouchers and charter schools, and would wince to be portrayed as a partisan of school choice. Yet she has become an avid supporter of the San Francisco system and the benefits it brings to San Francisco families.”

  12. CarolineSF says:

    Thanks, Judge Crater, though you certainly inflate my clout and importance. I guess I’m flattered.

    But actually, I’ve been quite involved foryears in advocating for change in many ways on education issues (successfully at times) here in San Francisco and beyond.

    “Defender of the status quo” is the edreformy sound bite for someone who is skeptical about charterization, privatization, increased testing/punishment, increased class sizes and the rest of the package that’s the dominant philosophy from the currently high-profile education reform camp. I am skeptical of all those things, but not actually a defender of the status quo.

    For one thing, I support dismantling Prop. 13 and I want to see the “shrink government until you can drown it in the bathtub” culture that pervades our nation change — so in that sense I am vigorously challenging the status quo, the opposite of supporting it.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:

    The people who are piling on CarolineSF show a narrow lack of understanding.

    What do you think of when you hear “public?” Public good. Public spirited. What do you think of when you hear “private?” Private greed. Public is inherently good. Private is inherently bad. A public institution, no matter how badly it is performing at the moment, can act in the public interest. A private institution cannot. This is not a narrowly technocratic issue; it is moral.

    To go from public to private is to give up the chance to act rightly. Sure, the kids may learn a little more, or feel a little safer but as was once said, “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?”