Teachers Union Turning Back Against Parent Trigger
Hillel Aron | May 31, 2013
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In recent days, LAUSD teachers and union activists have been stepping up their attacks on the use of California’s parent trigger law and Parent Revolution, the nonprofit that has been coordinating parents’ efforts.
They held a Thursday press conference at Weigand Elementary, the school where parents and organizers recently petitioned to oust Principal Irma Cobian (but keep the teachers and remain a part of LAUSD).
Pro-trigger protesters were also there, as noted by the LA Times‘ Teresa Watanabe (see image above).
And the teachers union is holding a special meeting this Sunday for union representatives and others at schools that are “facing a possible takeover by ‘Parent Trigger.'”
One reason for the renewed opposition may be the concern about additional parent trigger petitions within LAUSD. A source within UTLA said there were at least 14 schools being “targeted” for future petitions. A Parent Revolution spokesman said that the group is in preliminary conversations with as many as 50 LAUSD schools.
The California parent trigger law, passed in 2010, allows parents to replace the governing structure of a school if they can obtain signatures from over 50 percent of parents. The school can be converted into a charter school, can be closed, the principal can be removed, or the school can be restaffed with new teachers.
All trigger campaigns thus far have had significant organizational support from the non-profit group, Parent Revolution, which lobbied for the parent trigger law.
Weigand Elementary is the second LAUSD school to be reformed in some way by a trigger petition, after 24th St. Elementary. (An additional petition at Haddon Elementary was put “on pause” when teachers and parents agreed to changes on their own.)
The successful trigger at Weigand has, according to the LA Times, left the “South LA school divided.”
In response to their principal’s removal, 21 out of 22 teachers have asked to be transferred to other schools. UTLA Area Chair Ingrid Villeda told LA School Report those requests had been formally submitted, and that the district has agreed to lift its usual 10 percent cap on transfer requests per school site.
In terms of additional schools, “There’s no current active trigger campaigns,” said Gabe Rose, Deputy Director for Parent Revolution. “But there are lots of conversations and activism and organizing all over the place.”
Rose said that Parent Revolution never starts a campaign without being invited to do so by parents, although they will sometimes go to campuses and take surveys.
“When we find parents that are frustrated, we’ll offer help,” he said.
The first step is to form a parent union, a time-consuming process that involves electing leadership and a steering committee, and formally filing papers with the Secretary of State.
Rose said there are currently no parent unions within LAUSD besides the ones at Weigand, Haddon and 24th St. He added, however: “We’re in talks with a lot of parents in a lot of different schools.” Asked how many, he replied, “Somewhere in the range of 50.”
That doesn’t mean that 50 parent unions are imminent, but there could be as many as 10 to 20 in the near future, pressing the district for various reforms.
The teachers union has been opposed to the parent trigger law in general, although earlier this year, UTLA did not specifically oppose the 24th St. trigger.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said in April that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools — watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.”
Fletcher did not make a public comment when the School Board recently voted 5-2 to approve the Weigand Elementary trigger petition, either, though a number of angry parents spoke out against the petition and Board Member Bennett Kayser said, “This process is one that’s out of control and needs to be fixed.”
Now, as has happened in previous parent trigger situations outside of LAUSD, teachers and activists are accusing Parent Revolution organizers of lying to parents.
“Parents are ready to talk to media about how they were duped into signing petitions for what they thought was going to improve their schools,” UTLA area chair Jose Lara told LA School Report.
Ingrid Villeda, the UTLA chapter chair whose area covers Weigand, said that one organizer who was gathering signatures “identified herself as a school employee.” Villeda also said that when parents tried to withdraw their signatures, organizers suggested that it might be illegal.
Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps blamed the latest pushback on the teachers union, which opposes the trigger law, and the threat of parent trigger petitions becoming commonplace.
“They’re starting to feel the heat of parent power,” he said. “They’re realizing this is not just a fad, but that parent empowerment is here to stay. They have to try to find ways of countering it, because it might make teachers more accountable.”