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Mojave Desert parents go back to court over charter school issue

August 28, 2012 | 10:46 pm

In a continuing legal battle over the state’s parent-trigger law, Mojave Desert parents asked the courts Tuesday to order the Adelanto school board to stop blocking their efforts to select a charter school to take over their failing campus.

Parents at Desert Trails Elementary School had won a court order in July requiring the school board to accept their petition for a charter school and immediately allow them to begin selecting one. But the board voted 3 to 1 earlier this month to reject the parents' chosen charter option, saying there was insufficient time to start one this school year, and instead selected a different overhaul plan.

That sparked outrage among petition supporters, who accused the school board of violating both San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Steve Malone's order and the landmark parent-trigger law.

That 2010 law gave parents in low-performing schools the right to petition for sweeping changes, including replacing staff and curriculum, closing the campus or converting to a charter school. Charters are independent, publicly financed schools that are usually non-union.

On Tuesday, parent leader Doreen Diaz said charter backers would take all legal action necessary to force the board to honor their petition and give their children a quality education. Desert Trails is the lowest performing elementary school in the Adelanto district, with nearly three-fourths of sixth-graders unable to do grade-level work in math and English.

"Parents have the right to fight for their children," Diaz said. "The board needs to do what is right by the law and follow the court order."

Board President Carlos Mendoza, however, asserted that the signatures gathered and submitted in January no longer represent at least half of the Desert Trails students, as the law requires for a successful petition. He said many students graduated in June and others have since moved away.

He challenged petition supporters to put the question to a vote by secret ballot to ascertain the will of current Desert Trails families.

"There's been enough litigation," Mendoza said. "Let's put it up for a vote and settle it without spending our students' money."

Diaz rejected the suggestion, however, saying parents have already voiced their will through the petition.

The legal action Tuesday is the latest skirmish in a yearlong battle over the parent-trigger law at Desert Trails. After months of organizing, parents in January submitted signatures representing 70% of the 666 students at the time requesting a charter school.

But the board rejected the petition after parents of more than 90 students said they were misled by the campaign and rescinded their signatures, causing support to drop below the required 50% threshold.

The parent group -- aided by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit -- accused petition opponents of fraud and harassment in the recision campaign and challenged the board action. In July, Malone ruled that recisions were not legal under the parent-trigger law and ordered the board to accept the petition and allow parents to solicit and select a charter operator.

Parents have invited three charter operators to submit full applications.

The parents' motion filed Tuesday asserts the board had no right to replace the parents' charter option with its own overhaul plan. Under that plan, a community advisory board made up of administrators, teachers, parents and community members would govern the school. The improvement plan includes an extended school day, new curriculum, technology and faculty coach.

ALSO:

Campaign for Adelanto charter school falls short

Adelanto school leaders reject parent trigger effort

'Parent trigger' campaign divides families at troubled Adelanto elementary school

-- Teresa Watanabe

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