Bright and articulate, Enrique Duarte IV, 11, rode the bus with his parents from Los Angeles to Sacramento with one cause in mind: to tell the state Board of Education that someday, he wants to return to a public school classroom.
Enrique told the board that he left his elementary school because unqualified teachers didn't know the material. He said one day each week, he and his classmates left school early so the teachers could have study time.
"It was good for us but not good for them, 'cause they didn't know all there was to know about teaching," said Enrique, who is now being home-schooled. "My school wasn't a good school. That's why I came here, so maybe I can go back."
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Enrique was one of more than 100 students and parents from the group Parent Revolution who traveled to a State Board of Education meeting last week to advocate for a new and controversial law called the "parent trigger."
Passed last year, the law states that if 51 percent of parents with children at a failing school sign a petition, the district must pursue radical reforms to improve the school. Those measures include replacing the principal and at least half of the staff, bringing in a charter school operator, expanding the school day, or possibly closing the school outright.
During a packed and often emotionally charged meeting, the board approved regulations that clarify how the reforms can be sought and implemented. Under the new rules, the state must create a sample petition and website to guide parents. Organizations that finance petitions and anyone paid to gather signatures must disclose their paid status. Pay-per-signature arrangements are banned under the new guidelines.
The new rules also require school offficals to verify parent signatures through documents already filed with the district. A previous effort in Compton to root out fraudulent signatures sparked confusion and triggered a lawsuit.
Schools that have missed federal testing targets for four consecutive years and have a state Academic Performance Index score under 800 can be forced to undergo one of four reforms. State rules limit the procedure to no more than 75 schools.
The Parent Trigger law is gaining popularity nationally and internationally, but it also has been met with skepticism and resistance. Teachers and others have criticized Parent Revolution, saying the group's reform efforts are meant to further the aims of charter school operators. The parent group was founded by Green Dot Public Schools, a prominent and influential charter school organization. Members of Parent Revolution deny the allegations and stress they represent a diverse set of parents and families who just want to see the best solutions for their local schools.
One Parent Revolution board member, Lydia Grant, traveled from the San Fernando Valley to testify in front of the Board of Education. Grant intends to seize on the new rules to join with other parents to request the replacement of the school principal and some staff at Mt. Gleason Middle School in Sunland. She said she and her neighbors don't want a charter school takeover of their struggling school.
If successful, the newly hired administrators would be given flexibility in scheduling, budgeting and staffing. The incoming principal could rehire up to 50 percent of the staff – an option Grant likes. She says her neighborhood middle school has been beset with poor leadership and a high teacher turnover rate.
Grant said the regulations will give children at the school a fresh start.
"We have an administrative problem," Grant said. "We're trying to stop the hemorrhaging. And I'm trying to protect the kids."
Grant was one of four parents who filed an ethics complaint against Patricia Rucker, who sits on the State Board of Education. The complaint accused Rucker of having a conflict of interest because she is a lobbyist employed by the state teachers union, which has opposed the Parent Trigger law. Grant said she respected Rucker but questioned whether she could be impartial.
However, Rucker joined the rest of the board and voted in favor of the regulations. A surprised Grant went up to Rucker and offered her gratitude.
Grant told California Watch that the ethics complaint was over as far as she was concerned.
Daniel Jackson, a 31-year-old father, said he believes the new law gives a voice to parents who sometimes struggle to overcome stubbornness and a lack of information from school districts.
"I feel it will help me, for I now have a voice," he said. "I now can tell other people to get involved. It's not just about that particular school. It's about every child attending school in California."