Barack Obama/FlickrGloria Romero
Former state Sen. Gloria Romero, the author of a controversial law that allows parents to force major changes in their children's school, said she won't support amending the law to make the process more open, despite a roiling controversy over use of the law in Compton.
"If transparency means giving time for parents to be intimidated, threatened and deported, that is not transparency to me," Romero said in an interview with California Watch. "I strongly support the parent trigger law as it was introduced (in the Legislature), and it is operating in the way it was intended."
Romero recently accepted a position as the first California director for Democrats for Education Reform.
The "parent trigger" law was passed last year when Romero was chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education. The law allows a majority of parents at a school (and "feeder" schools that students in earlier grades attend) to trigger a major restructuring of a school, including turning it into a charter school.
The State Board of Education, now dominated by Gov. Brown appointees who were sworn in yesterday, has postponed enacting final regulations for implementation of the law. Romero had earlier on John Fensterwald's Educated Guess blasted the board for the expected postponement.
The regulations are silent on the issue of how open the petition process should be, as is the law itself. Presumably any change would need to come from the Legislature itself.
But yesterday, without addressing the parent trigger issue directly, new board president Michael Kirst said that postponement of any item carried over from the old board did not say anything about the current board's position on it, but rather was a necessary move to allow board members to get up to speed on a number of key issues.
The issue of more transparency has emerged as a major source of controversy, and conflict, in response to the stealth campaign organized by Parent Revolution, which was able to gain sufficient signatures from parents at the McKinley Elementary School in Compton Unified School District to turn the school in a charter school, and to designate which charter school company would run it.
The petition was delivered to school district officials, who had no idea the petition drive was even underway, after weeks of signature gathering by Parent Revolution organizers who trolled Compton, knocking randomly on doors and stopping people on the street to locate McKinley parents, or parents from feeder schools.
The petition was delivered on Dec. 7 – Pearl Harbor Day – chosen at least in part for its symbolic value of a surprise attack on the status quo, according to Patrick McDonald, the reporter for LA Weekly who was embedded with the weeks-long campaign. Even the school's PTA was unaware of the petition drive.
After the petitions were delivered, many parents asked for their names to be withdrawn, claiming that they weren't fully aware of what they were signing. Supporters of the change, including Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin, said that parents were intimidated into withdrawing their names, or even threatened with deportation in the case of parents without authorization to be in the United States. In a post this week, Parent Revolution says that many of those parents have now asked for their names to be added back to the petition.
Late last year, the State Board of Education – before its composition was dramatically changed by Gov. Brown – referred allegations to the attorney general's office that parents were intimidated into withdrawing their signatures from the petition once it was made public. This week, Parent Revolution said that many of those who withdrew their signatures now want to put them back on.
Romero, like Ted Mitchell, the former board president, said that the parent trigger was a "tool of last resort," and that school authorities have had ample opportunity to address parent concerns before they decide to pull the parent trigger.
"This is not about a bake sale, this is about transference of real power, of giving parents real power, when those who have had the opportunity to improve schools have either not done so or have failed to produce the output."
In an earlier interview with California Watch, Austin, of Parent Revolution, said that if ground rules could be established that all sides refrain from the kind of intimidation Romero referred to, he would support a more open process.
"If there were ground rules, and there was an enforcement mechanism, so parents could actually be free of intimidation, of course we would be OK with that."
But Romero rejected that notion as well. "We are open to changes (to the law), but one where we have more meetings, where you have to call everyone and have everyone sit down together, I would not be open to that."
She said she modeled the law after the Employee Free Choice act promoted by unions across the country, but so far successfully opposed by business interests, that would allow workers to join a union if a majority of workers sign cards indicating their desire to do so.
"All this (the parent trigger) does is provide parents the opportunity to petition their government," she said. "Why are we afraid of that?"