View Mobile Site

Parents choose charter for Mojave school

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED October 19, 2012 12:54 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mojave Desert parents on Thursday chose a charter operator partnered with a local university to take over their children’s failing elementary school, marking the nation’s first use of a law empowering parents to drive educational reform.

Parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, located about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, voted between two local nonprofits that applied to take over the low-performing school next fall.

Voters opted for LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which is partnered with the University of La Verne, over the Lewis Center for Educational Research.

Both operators run nearby elementary schools.

Doreen Diaz, a lead coordinator of the parents group, said both candidates were strong but the LaVerne group appeared especially well-suited to their students.

“Parents selected LaVerne due to their incredibly strong track record with the same student demographics as Desert Trails,” Diaz said in a statement. “Turning around a failing school like Desert Trails is incredibly difficult work, and there is a lot of work to be done.”

Only parents who signed the petition in favor of the charter voted. Vote tallies were not released, but 53 out of 180 eligible voters cast ballots.

The balloting was the culmination of an acrimonious, 18-month-long battle by the Desert Trails Parent Union against the teachers union and Adelanto Elementary School District to reform the school under California’s landmark “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to force radical change through a petition.

“The defenders of the status quo have done everything possible to stop this day and this vote from happening,” Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, said in a statement. “No parent need ever feel intimidated when they look at what the parents of Desert Trails have achieved.”

Teachers, who stand to lose their jobs in a charter takeover, and other opponents waged a bitter campaign against the parent organizers, who said they and their children were harassed. Other parents who signed the petition said they were intimidated, lied to and threatened with deportation.

Opponents said the petition organizers were unclear about their intentions and misled parents.

The case wound up in court, where a judge ordered the district to accept the petition, signed by 70 percent of the school’s parents, and to allow the parents to choose the charter operator. A court had to repeat its order earlier this month after the school board refused to consider a charter.

Parents placed their paper ballots Thursday in a locked, transparent plastic box under a small marquee in a park across from the school. The ballots were counted in the same place by officials from a local church.

Parent organizer Kathy Duncan said voting went smoothly for the most part, but noted that the local teachers union sponsored a free, off-campus skate party for kids, who had to be accompanied by their parents, on the same afternoon as the vote.

Duncan said the event was unusual and questioned the timing. Union representatives could not be reached for comment.

The parents union plans to submit its chosen charter operator to the school board by the end of October. The board must make a decision on it within 60 days.

School board President Carlos Mendoza said he is not opposed to charters, but he hoped that reforms that are already under way at the school, such as a longer school day, will not be disrupted.

Versions of parent trigger laws have been adopted in about six other states. The Adelanto case is the first successful use of the law. A previous attempt in Compton failed when a judge tossed out the parents’ petition on a technicality after it was challenged by the school district.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...