Los Angeles Unified School District bid to dodge Parent Trigger Law fails

The California Senate Legislative Counsel issued last week a sweeping opinion, concluding a controversy as to whether a school district – Los Angeles Unified, in this case – can proclaim itself exempt from California’s historic Parent Trigger law, which enables parents of kids in chronically underperforming schools to transform it if a majority of parents petition for change. It’s an empowering law, allowing parents to become the architects of their children’s educational futures.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, requested the ruling from the nonpartisan Senate legal office. It concluded that LAUSD – or any district – could not exempt itself from the law.

“The legislative intent in enacting [the law] … was to allow parents or guardians of pupils enrolled in schools that have been underperforming … to request specified interventions. It would be inconsistent with that legislative intent to conclude that … [they] … are deprived of the remedy set forth … on the basis that a school district has received a federal waiver whose purpose is to relieve that district solely from compliance with federal performance requirements. t is our opinion that the … waiver … does not exempt that school district from compliance with the [law].”

The controversy began when LAUSD in August declared itself exempt from the Parent Trigger law after it was granted an unrelated waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for participating in an innovative reform coalition. Adding to the outrage was revelation that LAUSD failed to reveal its decision to California legislators who wrote the law. It remained secret for almost a year until I discovered the self-proclaimed exemption.

Correspondence between an LAUSD official and the head of an education reform group, Parent Revolution, indicated the district had taken the position no later than November 2013 that it was exempt from the Parent Trigger law. The Parent Revolution official referenced a phone call with the LAUSD official in which the district official said LAUSD would not go public with its position on exemption, but would cite the exemption in denying any parent petition for changes at an underperforming school.

Once this was discovered, a demand for an investigation was made by the California Center for Parent Empowerment on Oct. 21, followed by Huff’s request for a ruling from the Senate’s legal office on whether LAUSD was exempt from the Parent Trigger law.

In the interim, John Deasy resigned as LAUSD superintendent, and his replacement, Ramon Cortines, reversed the declared exemption.

While LAUSD was the only district immediately impacted by the controversy, the public challenge to its effort to dodge the Parent Trigger law was important in reinforcing the need for sunshine in government and refuting the notion that any taxpayer-supported entity can arbitrarily suspend laws and regulations it perceives as cumbersome or unneeded.

This is particularly important as California parents continue to mobilize to use a law, which I wrote while in the Senate, to empower parents to become agents of change when school officials fail to transform chronically underperforming schools. For example, parents at Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim are mobilizing to turn around their school. Already they have faced obstacles imposed on them by some hostile school board members and school officials, but the parents have surmounted each obstacle and could become the first parents in Orange County to succeed in using the Parent Trigger law on behalf of their children.

At a time when too many people complain about the lack of parent involvement in their kids’ educations, these parents should be celebrated as everyday heroes.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

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