Two mothers pleaded not guilty Monday to charges they vandalized a classroom at a Mojave Desert school after losing a battle to keep it from being transformed into a charter campus under the controversial parent trigger law.
Lori Yuan and Chrissy Guzman were parent leaders against the effort to convert the low-performing Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto to a charter last fall in the state's first successful use of the 2010 parent trigger law. The law allows parents to petition to force failing schools to replace their staff, change curriculum, close or convert to a charter. Charter schools are independent, publicly financed campuses.
The classroom was vandalized June 26 with ketchup, mustard and paint, causing an estimated $8,000 in damage, said Christopher Lee, spokesman for the San Bernardino County district attorney's office. The crime can be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Lee would not comment on reports that a video capturing the vandals in the act had been recovered.
Guzman and Yuan, who currently serves as the Adelanto Planning Commission chairwoman, did not return calls for comment. Yuan's attorney, Philip C. Greenberg, declined to comment, saying he had just been retained and had not yet fully reviewed the case.
Debra Tarver, principal at the school now renamed Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, did not return calls for comment.
Mark Holscher, attorney for the parents who launched the petition effort, said the classroom vandalism was one of several incidents targeted against them and the charter school after the heated battle over control of the campus. He said one parent leader's home was vandalized with eggs a week after the school incident, another found a bag of feces on her doorstep in May and the campus was vandalized again Dec. 14.
Holscher reiterated his call for an investigation into possible links among those incidents and evidence of fraud in the effort to rescind parent signatures on the trigger petition. The petition to convert the school to a charter was initially signed two years ago by parents representing 70% of the 666 students there at the time.
But the anti-charter group, led by Yuan and Guzman, subsequently turned in 97 forms from parents who purportedly wanted to rescind their signatures, saying they had been confused or misled into signing. That dropped support for changes below the required 50% threshold.
At least five parents, however, subsequently submitted declarations saying the rescission forms they signed had been fraudulently presented or doctored; three said they did not intend to revoke their support for a charter conversion. Ultimately, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled that the parent trigger law did not allow rescissions and ordered the Adelanto school board to approve the petition.
Derrick Everett of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that assisted the parent trigger effort, said the arrest of Yuan and Guzman had stunned Desert Trails parents.
"There's passion on both sides and reasonable people can disagree strongly, but anyone who would commit such an act crosses a line that no one ever thought would be crossed," he said. "Parents, teachers, staff and others are working very hard to move forward."
Lee declined to comment on whether the district attorney's office is investigating other potential offenses linked to the June school vandalism. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22