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Judge Sides with Parent Trigger Petition Effort to Turn Anaheim Elementary Campus into a Charter School

July 23, 2015

On July 16, an Orange County Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of a parent group – and against the Anaheim City School District – in a case involving a parent trigger petition aimed at converting Anaheim’s Palm Lane Elementary into a charter school.

In an article in the Orange County Register on July 17, staff writer Rebecca Kheel wrote:

A parent group’s petition to take over their elementary school and turn it into a charter school was done properly and can move forward, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled.

“When I received the news, I’m crying for a little time,” said Cecilia Ochoa, a parent of two Palm Lane Elementary School students and one of the lead petitioners in what is believed to the first use of the so-called Parent Trigger Law in Orange County. “I’m so very happy, and all my community is happy too.”

Judge Andrew Banks ruled Thursday the Anaheim City School District board has 20 days to approve the parents’ petition and allow them to start soliciting and collecting charter school proposals. Calling the ruling “too fresh,” Anaheim school board president Bob Gardner said Friday he couldn’t comment on the possibility of an appeal, but said he hopes to work cooperatively with the parents.

The Palm Lane parents invoked the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger Law, which allows parents of low-achieving schools to collect signatures to petition school boards to reform schools, including turning campuses into charter schools.

In January, parents and organizers turned in signatures they said represented 66 percent of the students. The group needed valid signatures from parents of more than half of the students.

But the school board in February voted unanimously to return the petition, mostly because it lacked enough valid signatures, district officials said at the time.

The district later filed a court motion asking that Palm Lane not be subjected to the Parent Trigger Law altogether, saying there are currently no evaluations available to measure schools’ academic performance. The state’s Academic Performance Index and the federal No Child left Behind Act are both suspended right now.

Anaheim Superintendent Linda Wagner said Friday the suit was meant to clarify the law for the district.

“The lawsuit and court decision should signal two clear messages throughout our state,” Wagner said in a written statement. “First, the Parent Trigger Law presents many ambiguities for local governing boards, which warrant the attention of the Legislature. Second, we believe this decision sends a clear message that more clear and collaborative communication with parent groups is of paramount importance.”

Just because the state is not currently measuring adequate yearly progress, Judge Banks wrote, that does not mean the school isn’t subject to the law. Instead, he said, Palm Lane’s status was frozen at the state’s last measurement.

Palm Lane ranked near the bottom of the district in the state’s Academic Performance Index scores. About 38 percent of students passed state English tests, while 54 percent passed the math tests, according to 2013 state results.

In regard to whether the petition had enough valid signatures, Banks said the district employee who verified the signatures tried her best, but did not have proper training. His review found at least 11 more valid signatures than the parents needed.

“The deficiencies in the process used were substantial; so substantial that it made it an unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair process,” he wrote of the district’s verification process.

Anaheim school board president Gardner said he believes the district’s process was fair, but that he hopes the district and the parents can have a good working relationship moving forward.

“I feel like we tried our best to honor the law and still feel that the process that counted the votes was straightforward and without prejudice,” he said. “Moving forward, I hope we’re able to work harmoniously with the parents.”

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Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) congratulated both students and parents connected with the Palm Lane Elementary School Parent Trigger case. “Justice prevailed in this instance,” said Senator Huff following the ruling. “This is a complete win for the students and parents who demanded change at an underperforming school and stood up against union bullies and district delay tactics. The ruling sends a clear signal to all school districts in California: Clean up your act because the parent trigger process is here to stay.”

“I’m pleased that Judge Banks also found that the district did not work with the parents during the parent trigger process, even though state law clearly requires them to do just that,” said Senator Huff.

Senator Huff represents the 29th Senate District covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties.

Source:  Orange County Register, Office of Sen. Bob Huff.



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