A controversial state law permitting parents to petition for sweeping changes in failing schools cannot be used this year in Los Angeles Unified, district officials decided.
In a letter from a district lawyer to former state Sen. Gloria Romero obtained by The Times on Thursday, officials said the school system is not subject to the "parent trigger" law because it obtained a waiver last year from federal educational requirements that are linked to it. Instead, L.A. Unified has joined with eight other California school districts to create their own changes and systems to monitor progress, the letter said.
Romero, who authored the 2010 law, said she was stunned by the district's position, which was laid out in a letter Wednesday from Kathleen Collins, L.A. Unified's chief administrative law and litigation counsel.
"I am livid about this," Romero said. "I believe it violates the spirit and intent of parent empowerment."
But Supt. John Deasy said the district still supports the law, and that low-performing schools would once more be subject to parent petitions for change at the end of the year. The federal waiver obtained, he said, simply restarted the two-year time period schools need to be academically substandard before they are eligible for a trigger overhaul.
"I wholeheartedly support the legislation and look forward to working again with eligible schools," Deasy said.
Collins wrote that the district "remains committed to addressing any issues and concerns from parents and community."
Under the trigger law, 50% of parents at a low-performing school can force changes in staff and curriculum, shut down the campus or convert to an independent charter enterprise, which is publicly financed and usually non-union.
Several other states have adopted similar laws. In California, parent groups at three schools have successfully used the trigger to overhaul their campuses, with mixed results. At one school in the high desert city of Adelanto, several teachers left after parents transformed the campus to a charter last year. But 91% of parents surveyed said the school was better after the change than before, said Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that lobbied for the law and has helped parents use it.
Rose added that parents at three additional schools won changes without using a petition campaign — most recently at West Athens Elementary. There, parents decided not to petition after Deasy agreed to invest an additional $300,000 in the school.
Rose said his group "flatly disagreed" that L.A. Unified was not subject to the parent trigger law this year. In a November letter, Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin told a district official that his group "will ultimately be forced to bring the issue to a judge" unless the decision is reversed.
"There's nothing LAUSD can do to unilaterally take away the rights of parents given to them by the state Legislature," Rose said.
Rose said the group is not currently working with any active parent petition campaigns.
In a letter last year, a U.S. Department of Education official told Deasy the federal waiver did not exempt L.A. Unified from identifying schools for improvement, corrective action or restructuring, and did not affect any related state laws.
The state is shifting to a new standardized testing system so districts could vary in how they are able to make those assessments this year.
A leading opponent of the law hailed the district's position. Ingrid Villeda of United Teachers Los Angeles, who has spearheaded opposition to Parent Revolution in South Los Angeles schools, said the petition campaign has done more harm than good, dividing communities and allowing just half the parents to decide the fate of an entire campus.
"The law is flawed," she said, adding that all school and community members should have a voice to "create change that is effective and long-lasting."