As school starts, new questions in Adelanto charter fight
The Adelanto school board’s rejection of a closely watched parent bid to convert a failing elementary school in the Mojave Desert into a charter campus raised new legal questions Sunday over the pioneering but still untested parent trigger law.
Board members of the Adelanto Elementary School District late Friday voted 3 to 1 to accept the parents’ petition for an overhaul at low-performing Desert Trails Elementary School. But they rejected the parents’ preferred choice for change — a charter campus — after concluding there was insufficient time to start one for the new school year that begins Monday.
Both sides sharply disagreed over whether board members had the right to make that decision in the face of a July 18 court ruling ordering them to allow parents to begin soliciting and selecting a charter operator.
Mark Holscher, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the parents, said San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone gave the order even after the district argued there would not be enough time to put a charter school in place by Monday.
“We are prepared to use all available legal remedies to make sure Judge Malone’s order is followed,” he said in a statement.
District officials, however, said the issue had not been addressed in court.
The two sides also disagreed on whether the school board had the right to reject the parents’ chosen charter option and select its own.
Parents pushing for a charter school argued that board delays in approving their petition caused them to run out of time.
“The school board has the final say-so, but using the tactic of deny and delay in order to run out the clock is illegal,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the 2010 parent trigger law.
Adelanto school board President Carlos Mendoza said the law gives school boards the final authority over which overhaul option to choose.
Friday’s vote is the latest action in a yearlong, bitterly contested debate over the school, where more than three-fourths of sixth-graders fail to read and do math at grade level.
Using the parent trigger law, parents in January submitted a petition for a charter campus that was signed by parents representing 70% of the 666 students enrolled in the school at the time. But more than 90 parents subsequently rescinded their support, saying they were misled or confused into signing. The district threw the signatures out, causing support to drop below the required 50% threshold, and rejected the petition.
Parents responded by suing the district and its board. Last month, Malone ruled the parent-trigger law does not allow recisions and ordered the district to accept the petition and permit parents to start soliciting charter proposals.
Mendoza said the board would move forward with its own plan to form a community advisory council to oversee such improvements as an extended school day, new curriculum, more technology, writing workshops, school progress reports and a coach for teachers. The council — which will include teachers, administrators, parents and community members — will report directly to the district superintendent and school board.
But Doreen Diaz, a parent leader of the petition campaign, said the group will continue with its charter selection process. Three operators have been invited to submit charter proposals so far.
“As parents with children trapped in a failing school, we are disappointed,” Diaz said in a statement. “If they have money to spend, it should be on the children in our school and not on lawyers.”
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