Court victory for California 'parent trigger law'

Supporters of a two-year-old ‘parent trigger’ law in California have won a legal victory after a judge in a Los Angeles suburb ordered school district officials to accept the parental petition outlining proposals for overhauling a failing local school. Although the law has been in effect since 2010, this reportedly is the first time the courts have weighed in on the side of the petitioners.

The law allows parents to force changes onto a failing school if at least half of the parents sign a petition submitted to the school board. The parents of Desert Trails Elementary School collected the required number of signatures, but the board rejected their petition because district officials claimed that some parents rescinded their signatures before the petition was formally submitted.

Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled the parent trigger law does not allow recisions and explicitly states that parents "shall be free from ... being encouraged to revoke their signatures on a petition." Malone also ruled that the regulations restricted a school district's duty in reviewing petitions to verifying eligible signatures only — not to invalidate those from parents who change their minds.

The school has been listed as failing over most of the last decade and the parental petition is calling for the school to be converted into a charter. According to the Los Angeles Times, 477 people signed a petition to turn the school into charter campus - representing 70% of the 666 students enrolled at the time.  But the board invalidated 218 of them, driving down the support to 37%.  The petition was resubmitted in March but the board ruled that it still fell short and rejected it.

California was the first state to enact a parent trigger law. According to the National Education Association, 20 states have considered adopting a form of a parent trigger law. In addition to California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas have adopted similar bills empowering parents to force changes in their children's schools. At its annual meeting in May 2012, the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed a resolution supporting parental trigger laws.