The Parent Trigger Goes to Court

McKinley Elementary

The big education news this week: Compton parents who sought to exercise their rights under the new "trigger" law -- which allows parents to force the takeover of failing schools -- sued their school district in court. Their claim? That the school district -- by demanding they appear in person to verify their signatures on the petition triggering the takeover of McKinley Elementary School -- was seeking to intimidate them and violate their rights. The parents on Thursday won an early victory, with a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granting a temporary restraining order barring the district from verifying their signatures.

McKinley is the first school in the state where parents have tried to employ the new trigger law. They want the school to be taken over by a charter school company. So the case has great potential to set precedents for how the trigger is handled.

This may be one reason for the lawsuit. The new administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is widely believed to be hostile to the "parent trigger," which was championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In one of his first acts as governor, So backers of the trigger may prefer to let the courts decide how the law should be enforced rather than leaving it to Brown's appointees on the state school board. Brown replaced several members of the state school board, including the leader of the Parent Revolution group that has assisted the parents in Compton, just days before regulations on the parent trigger would be finalized. So it wouldn't be a surprise if the Brown board, which has so far delayed action on the parent trigger, sought to undercut the law via regulations that made it very difficult for parents to pull the trigger.

As to the merits of the lawsuit: in a normal situation, the school district's desire to check ID -- and make sure that the parents whose names on the petition really signed the document -- makes sense in general. But this case is different. By multiple accounts, school district employees and teachers who object to the parent trigger have applied private and public pressure to parents to get them to back off. (According to some reports, parents whose immigration status is in question have been targeted).

Plus, this is Compton, which has a well-documented and entrenched political culture in which threats and corruption. The Compton school district itself had to be taken over by the state a decade ago for fiscal and academic mismanagement -- the first district in the state to receive that penalty. Given that history, parents' complaints about intimidation by school employees should be taken very seriously.

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