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Parents at 20th Street Elementary confront district's rejection of their takeover attempt

South Los Angeles parents who give their children's elementary school an “F” are exploring legal recourse after the L.A. Unified School District announced on Saturday that a state law allowing parents to take over failing schools does not apply to the district.

In rejecting the petition concerning 20th Street Elementary School, the district said that California’s 2010 “parent trigger law,” which allows parents to take over low-performing schools if they gather enough signatures, is not valid because it asks for outdated performance measurements.

An attorney for the district, David Holmquist, argued in a letter rejecting the petition that even if the law were valid, the district has a federal waiver that exempts it from using the Academic Performance Index and Academic Yearly Progress as performance measures.

Schools no longer measure API, instead using a new form of tests based on Common Core state standards.

The district has tried to make this argument before, under then-Supt. John Deasy in 2014. But the last superintendent, Ramon Cortines, said later that year that he would allow the petitions.

To invoke the parent trigger law, a school was required to have an API below 800 and have missed AYP benchmarks. In 2013, the school had a weighted three-year average API of 765.

The district's letter notes that the school achieved adequate yearly progress by the state’s measurement in 2015.

Even on recent state standardized tests, though, only 19% of students met literacy standards and 20% met math standards. That’s below the statewide results, in which 44% of students in all grades met literacy standards and 33% met math standards. 

“There hasn’t been an improvement in the children’s education,” said Lupe Aragon, the coordinator for the 20th Street Parents Union, whose daughter and granddaughter both attend the school.

Parent Karla Vilchis disagrees. Vilchis said her 5-year-old daughter is already reading and she credited the work of the teachers at the school.

“There are a lot of things that we could get better at,” Vilchis said. “Improvements are always welcome but we should be working together with our teachers and the principal.”

Vilchis was one of dozens of parents who attended a meeting Tuesday night with school and district administrators, including Supt. Michelle King.

King told parents that the district would work more closely with them to address their concerns.

“The important thing that I have learned over the course of the last month, or six weeks or so, is the need to bring this entire school community together in a unified way,” King said.

20th Street Elementary is almost 95% Latino, half of the students are English learners and 92% receive free-and-reduced lunch.

Unhappy parents at 20th Street almost submitted a petition last year to convert the school into a district-managed pilot school, but put their campaign on hold when the district offered a plan to improve the school.

Those parents say the district didn’t do enough -- the teachers don’t invest time in the students, the school doesn’t offer enough tutoring and the students, especially English learners, are unprepared when they enter middle school, said Maribel Mani, a parent who signed the petition.

Parent leaders began collecting signatures again this year with the intent to almost completely remove the district’s control and convert the school into a charter.

The petition drive was carried out with the help of locally based Parent Revolution, which has taken a lead role in organizing dissatisfied parents using the trigger law. The organization receives money from groups that support the growth of charter schools, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Los Angeles' teachers union has criticized Parent Revolution, noting that parents who choose not to sign the petitions have no say in the future of schools that are taken over.   

The district's rejection letter argues that the petition doesn’t specify whether it wants to convert the school into a school model that the district would run, or an independent charter school that an outside group would operate.

If the parents decide to take legal action, they could sue to reverse the district’s decision.

A school district in Anaheim offered similar reasons for rejecting a parent trigger petition last year, and a judge overturned the district’s rejection. That case is now under appeal.

Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.

Times staff writer Zahira Torres contributed to this report. 

 Editor’s Note: The Times receives funding for its Education Matters digital initiative from one or more of the groups mentioned in this article. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

10:11 p.m: This article was updated to include comments from a meeting at the school Tuesday evening. 

This article was originally published at 5:39 p.m.

 

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