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Adelanto parents file lawsuit in parent trigger controversy

April 5, 2012 |  5:57 pm

Mojave Desert parents aiming to overhaul their failing school filed a lawsuit Thursday against their school district, alleging that officials improperly rejected their petition to transform the campus to a charter school under the state’s parent trigger law.

In their complaint, parents at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto said the school board’s unanimous rejection of their petition twice in the last two months violated their federal and state constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.

In both cases, the board found that supporters failed to collect parent signatures representing at least half the school’s students, as required by the parent trigger law.

Under that 2010 law, parents at low-performing schools can petition for one of four reforms, including changing staff and curriculum, closing the campus or converting to a charter school. Charters are public schools that are independently managed and are mostly nonunion.

A key legal issue may be whether the law allows parents to rescind their signatures if they believe they were confused or misled about the petition. The complaint filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court asserts that rescisions are not allowed and that the district improperly threw out more than 90 signatures in the first count from parents who said they did not understand what they were signing.

The complaint also alleges that the process of gathering rescissions was riddled with fraud. The San Bernardino County district attorney is reviewing those allegations.

Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles educational nonprofit that helped Desert Trails parents with the petition campaign, said parents tried to work with the district for months.

“Unfortunately, the district has chosen confrontation over collaboration, violated the law and has forced parents into court in order to defend their constitutional rights and continue fighting for their children,” he said.

But Carlos Mendoza, Adelanto school board president, said the law is silent on rescissions and that they should be allowed if parents believe they were confused or misled. He criticized Parent Revolution’s strategy of presenting two petitions to parents -– one for district changes and another for a charter school -– and submitting the one some parents said they didn’t want, the charter option. 

Although the complaint outlines how petition supporters spent “countless hours” explaining that the strategy was simply a way to pressure the district into desired reforms, Mendoza said he was not convinced that all parents understood what they were signing.

He said the trigger campaign would have been more successful had it focused on just one petition and was managed more by Adelanto parents than Parent Revolution.

“The local school board does not appreciate outsiders coming in to threaten us,” he said.

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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