Palm Lane Reform Activists Win Court Ruling – District Immediately Appeals
The yearlong battle with the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education has ended. The parents of the 733 students enrolled at Palm Lane Elementary School have finally been granted the right to restart their decade-long failing school as an independent charter school.
Judge Andrew P. Banks, Orange County Superior Court, issued his 9-page ruling July 16th on the written and oral arguments that exposed the lengths to which the district bureaucrats went to deny the parents their legal rights to free themselves and their children of union control.
The parents submitted valid signed petitions to ACSD in January. They filed a Writ of Mandate after the Board of Education rejected their petition and requested the Court to order the District to accept the petition. The parents asserted they had gathered valid signatures from more than 50% of the parents as required by the Parent Empowerment Act.
The District responded that the parents failed to submit the correct number of valid signatures and failed to include a separate list with the names of the lead petitioners. They also asserted Palm Lane was NOT a subject school and parents failed to exhaust all of the available administrative remedies before filing the writ.
Judge Banks refuted all of the respondents’ arguments, ruled in favor of the parents and rebuked ACSD for their unseemly conduct. On multiple occasions he chastised them for acting in bad faith by their failure to work cooperatively with the Palm Lane parents as they were legally required to do by the Act as well as a formal California Teachers’ Association Advisory on Parent Empowerment Act Regulations dated 1/5/2012.
The Act instructs school districts to collaborate with parents to verify the collected signatures, granting them 60 days to do so in questionable cases and to request a personal appearance by a parent at the district office if need be.
Judge Banks censured ACSD for making no attempt to collaborate, contact or meet with the lead parents on even a single occasion. He also rebuked them for the process they employed to verify signatures, calling it “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.”
To verify signatures, ACSD hired a temporary employee whom they failed to educate in the specifics of the Parent Trigger Law, failed to train, supervise or provide with a written script for the telephone contacts with parents. They also restricted her calls to parents to the normal 8:30-4:30 workday, thereby insuring many parents would not be contacted. The unverified petitions, designated pending, were subsequently all discarded as invalid.
At its 2/19 meeting, the AC Board of Education rejected the petition, declared the parents had failed to meet the 50% requirement, falling 12 short of the necessary 355 signatures. Judge Banks personally reviewed the signatures and found a minimum of 378 to be valid.
Despite being labelled a subject school by the district superintendent in her letter to Palm Lane parents last October and in multiple internal memoranda, ACSD maintained Palm Lane was not a subject school in court testimony. The designation is determined by the Average Yearly Progress score, a number the State uses to assess a school’s improved performance.
Because California did not issue AYP scores for 2014, another test was used to measure yearly performance which ACSD insisted disqualified Palm Lane from being considered a subject school. Judge Bank disagreed.
Citing a memo from State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson in which he orders school districts to use the most recent AYP in place of a 2014 result, Judge Banks stated ACSD should have used Palm Lane’s 2013 AYP, a test result that capped a decade-long record of failure. Relying on the Torlakson memorandum, Judge Banks determined Palm Lane qualifies as a subject school.
The Court questioned the district’s credibility. One witness asserted under oath that she affixed her signature to an essentially blank page that lacked the text contained in every other copy of the petition.
Refusing to withdraw or correct her testimony, it highlights the persistent lack of integrity exposed during the court proceedings and the basis for Judge Banks’ repeated rebukes of the district’s conduct, calling the superintendent’s comments “troubling”.
The most credible witness in the case was Alfonso Flores, a decorated war veteran hired as a consultant to educate and train the parents in the petition gathering process.
Judge Banks ordered the school district to accept the petition and allow parents to solicit charter school proposals. As the Wall Street Journal noted in its July 21st editorial, “the case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law.”
The civility of Court’s language stands in stark contrast to the deliberate misrepresentations in the district’s communications with the parents and the bullying and intimidation their union representatives employed to frighten the parents.
Cecilia Ochoa and the lead parents, Mark Holscher and the pro-bono Kirkland and Ellis legal team and Senator Gloria Romero and her Center for Parent Empowerment are to be congratulated for their persistence.
The school district, elected school board members and the powerful teachers unions have been handed a well-deserved public rebuke. We hope it is the first of many. They have been exposed as acting in their own self-interest, not in the interest of the students or their parents. Congratulations to Judge Banks for taking them down a few pegs.
Not unsurprisingly, ACSD almost immediately announced they will appeal Judge Banks’ decision. Unions do not relinquish money and power until they’ve exhausted all options and are forced to do so.
About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.