Watts teachers urge public notice for parent trigger campaigns
Teachers at an embattled Watts campus where the principal was recently ousted under the state parent trigger law are pledging to join forces with other schools to defend themselves from privately led overhaul efforts.
Teachers at Weigand Avenue Elementary will push for public notifications and meetings to inform parents about trigger campaigns involving their schools, a staff member there said Friday.
Monica Platas, the school’s categorical programs coordinator, said Weigand staff was not allowed to respond to several parent questions about the trigger campaign, which succeeded in removing Principal Irma Cobian this month.
“The parents had a lot of questions about why they were doing this, but we couldn’t respond because it would be construed as impeding the process,” Platas said, adding that legal counsel for both the district and teachers union told them to remain silent.
“We want to make the process more transparent so the school has an opportunity to defend itself,” she said.
Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that lobbied for the trigger law and has assisted efforts to use it at Weigand and other campuses in Los Angeles, Compton and Adelanto, said it would welcome public meetings on neutral ground and consider the other proposals.
The call for changes to the trigger process came a day after parents supporting and opposing Cobian confronted each other in dueling rallies at Weigand. As Cobian opponents walked into the other side’s rally, hoisting signs, they were met with whistles and chants against Parent Revolution by her supporters.
The 2010 parent trigger law allows parents at persistently low-peforming schools to petition for sweeping changes, including overhauling staff and curriculum, closing the campus or converting to a publicly funded, independent charter.
The campaign against Cobian, launched by parents dissatisfied with her leadership and failure to raise the school’s low test scores quickly enough, marked the first success in removing an administrator under the law.
Platas also said teachers would push for public notification that petitions were about to be submitted to give parents who want to withdraw their signatures the chance to do so. A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled last year that the law does not allow recisions, but parents are allowed to remove their signatures before submission.
Ben Austin, Parent Revolution’s executive director, said the organization calls back all who sign a petition before submission to give them an opportunity to withdraw. But he said he would consider sending out a notice of the intent to submit to give parents a final chance to change their minds. Notification should not be sent out so far in advance that it would give petition opponents time to “scare” people into rescinding, he added.
Austin also said the group would consider public notification of trigger campaigns if all sides agreed on the language, all parents were alerted and information on how to reach petition organizers was included.
Public meetings would be welcomed, Austin said, as long as all parents were invited and the meetings were conducted with “mutual respect and a willingness to listen to the different viewpoints.”
“The emphasis needs to be on civil and respectful conversation,” he said in an email.
Such changes could ease at least some of the division and conflict that trigger campaigns have provoked at campuses such as Weigand. There, 21 of 22 teachers are planning to leave the school in protest against Cobian’s treatment and to escape what they say has become a poisoned atmosphere.
At the rally, Platas urged parents to carefully read everything before signing and to stay particularly alert during the summer, when trigger campaigns may accelerate. She was scheduled to speak about the Weigand campaign at a California Teachers Assn. state council meeting Saturday and United Teachers Los Angeles gathering Sunday.
Cobian, meanwhile, issued her own statement calling for an end to attacks on her leadership and an open discussion about critical areas to address for Weigand pupils, including a focus on literacy, quality teaching, health and nutrition, strong relationships with students and a campus culture of hope.
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