There has been a lot of heated rhetoric over the spread of so-called “parent trigger” or “parent petition” laws which allow parents and in some cases teachers to vote to restructure the school’s management in whole or in part. Seven states now have some form of parent petition legislation on the books and at least 20 others are considering it.
Until only recently, opponents and critics of these laws focused on how no parents had successfully “pulled the trigger.” The first effort under the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010 came in Compton, CA but was eventually dropped after a bitter battle. Then, after two years of district opposition and wrangling in court, parents from Desert Trails Elementary School in the isolated desert community of Adelanto, CA were successful in their efforts to bring in a proven charter school operator to take over their struggling school. No longer able to paint them as an “imaginary gimmick,” opponents of parent empowerment laws focused instead on how bitter and divisive the process was in both Compton and Adelanto. Last summer, in response to the movie “Won’t Back Down,” a fictional depiction of a parent revolution, AFT President Randi Weingarten argued that parent empowerment laws “deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children” and noted that ” in real life, there have been only two attempts to pull the parent trigger: One never made it to the approval process, but both were incredibly divisive and disruptive to the communities and schools involved.”
This week, though, comes the news that parents at another school in California, 21st Street Elementary in Los Angeles, have successfully used the Parent Empowerment Act to select a new operator for their school, and this time, instead of fighting with the school district, they are partnering with it. In January, LAUSD made news when instead of opposing the parents’ demand for a restart of the school under a new model, the district embraced the request, quickly approved the petition and then submitted its own plan to the parents for consideration. The result is the plan that was approved this week by 80 percent of the parents who voted. It calls for a partnership between the district and a local (nonprofit) charter school, Crown Prep. The district will introduce a new preschool program and operate grades K-4, while Crown Prep will operate grades 5-8.
While future efforts at parent empowerment aren’t likely to go as smoothly as they have at 21st Street Elementary, the collaborative efforts of the district and its willingness to work with instead of against parents is a hopeful sign that parent empowerment doesn’t have to be nasty and divisive and instead can be an opportunity for renewed trust and new beginnings.