The Los Angeles school board is set to consider a proposal Tuesday that would seek more public information about campaigns for major overhauls at the district’s low-performing schools under the state's controversial "parent trigger" law.
The proposal by board member Steve Zimmer marks the first effort in the state to tackle concerns that parents may not be receiving the most accurate or objective information about the status of their schools or the parent trigger process. The 2010 law gave parents at persistently low-performing schools the right to force out school staff, close their campus or reopen as an independent, publicly financed charter.
But petition campaigns held in at least three campuses in Compton, Adelanto and Los Angeles have sparked acrimony, division and confusion among parents, prompting Zimmer to seek ways to increase public information about the process.
“I believe in parent empowerment,” Zimmer said. “What we are trying to do is make sure parents are getting access to extensive, accurate and objective information.”
The proposal directs L.A. Unified to provide board members more information related to parent petition campaigns, including evidence of public notice and public meetings, an analysis of five years of school data and a summary of past attempts to improve the campus.
Zimmer said the board has no authority under state law to require petitioners to hold public meetings or publish notifications about their campaigns. But he said he may ask the district to provide informational meetings about the parent trigger process.
The proposal also asks the district to develop guidelines for principals and other school staff on how to respond to parent trigger petitions. During a recent campaign at Weigand Street Elementary, which succeeded in removing the principal, teachers said they were told by both the district and their union not to answer parent questions about the trigger petition so as not to interfere in the process.
"We don’t want them manipulating parents, but certainly the initiation of the signature gathering process shouldn’t have a gag order on it,” Zimmer said.
The proposal also urges changes to the state law, including giving all parents at a targeted school the right to vote on their chosen overhaul option. At present, only parents who signed the petition may vote; last fall, just 53 parents among 400 families at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto voted in an election to decide which charter operator would take over their school.
Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that lobbied for the law and has assisted parents in their petition campaigns, supports many of Zimmer’s goals, according to Gabe Rose, deputy director. He said the organization would embrace public meetings and the dissemination of information about a school’s performance.
But he said neither his organization nor parents with petition campaign experience were consulted about the proposal. And he said the measure failed to address what he called ongoing harassment and intimidation of parents organizing for change. Parents are being told that campaign organizers are trying to take control of the school even at campuses where they have only helped file complaints about dirty bathrooms or lobbied for more school buses, he said.
“On an almost weekly basis, there’s a constant and almost steady stream of parents being lied to and intimidated,” Rose said. "I think and hope that everyone agrees that this is unacceptable and has to stop."