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Adelanto parents can open charter campus, judge rules

October 12, 2012 |  6:31 pm

Mojave Desert parents struggling to transform their failing school won a key legal victory Friday when a judge ruled they must be allowed to open an independent charter campus next fall.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Vander Feer ordered board members with the Adelanto Elementary School District to reverse their previous decision rejecting a parent petition for a charter campus at Desert Trails Elementary School.

The case has been widely watched as a test of the state’s 2010 landmark parent trigger law, which allows parents to petition to overhaul their low-performing schools.

“I am very happy and excited that we’ll be able to move forward and get our kids the better education they deserve,” said Doreen Diaz, one of the parent leaders who pushed the petition.

Carlos Mendoza, Adelanto school board president, said the board would comply with the court ruling. "In my mind, the next step is for the parents to present their charter proposal to the board for approval."

Diaz said parents are planning next week to choose between two charter operators who have applied to take over the campus in the 2012-13 school year. Charters are independent, publicly financed schools that are mostly non-union.

Diaz’s leadership group is recommending approval of the LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which partners with the University of La Verne to operate a K-8 school in nearby Hesperia. LaVerne’s student performance, as measured by a 1,000-point scale known as the Academic Performance Index, grew to 911 this year from 869 last year.

In contrast, Desert Trails’ API score fell to 699 from 712 during the same time period. Diaz called that performance “just not acceptable.”

Mendoza, calling those results "tragic," said that several new reforms selected by administrators, teachers, parents and community members -- including an extended day and new curriculum -- have been launched at Desert Trails this year. He said he hoped the reforms would not be jeopardized by any new charter operator.

LaVerne Elementary, with 328 students, is half the size of Desert Trails and caps its classes at 20,  compared with an average class size of 32 at Desert Trails.

Vander Feer’s ruling is the latest twist in a long legal battle over Desert Trails. Parents launched their parent trigger campaign last year, aided by the nonprofit Parent Revolution, and submitted signatures representing more than half the students in January for a charter campus.

But the school board rejected the petition after parents representing more than 90 students complained they had been misled and rescinded their signatures, driving support below the 50% required legal threshold.

In July, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled the parent trigger law did not allow recisions and ordered the school board to accept the petition and allow parents to solicit and select a charter operator.

The following month, board members complied with the order and accepted the petition -- but voted, 3 to 1, to reject the request for a charter because, they said, there would not be enough time to launch one for this school year.

Mark Holscher, pro bono attorney for Kirkland & Ellis who represented the parents, hailed Vander Feer’s decision.

“This ruling paves the way for our clients to secure their fundamental right to a quality education for their children,” he said in a statement.

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--Teresa Watanabe

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