July 23, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune (Reuters)

For the first time, U.S. parents have managed to get a school turned over to their control using the “parent trigger law.” The Desert Trails Elementary School in the Adelanto, Calif. School District has been underperforming for years. Parents, aided by the nonprofit group Parent Revolution, started a petition campaign and collected supportive signatures from more than half of the school’s legal guardians and on Friday, Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled that the District was obliged to turn the school over to parent control. It will now become a private charter school. The parents are now searching for a management company.

The mostly low-income and minority children in Desert Trails have scored badly on proficiency tests in the past, with only about one in four able to pass reading, writing and math proficiency tests. According to the LA Times, the school has been designated as failing for six years in a row. Desert Trails will continue to be publicly funded and its enrollment will be open, but now parents have control over the curriculum and discipline. They can also hire and fire staff without union constraints. However, it hardly looks to be a straightforward road ahead, since Carlos Mendoza, president of the District’s Board of Trustees, says that almost 100 parents who had signed the trigger petition later asked for their names to be removed, with many saying that they had not fully understood the petition. The judge has ruled that they may not rescind their signatures.

California was the first state to pass a parent trigger law but Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also enacted such laws and similar bills are under consideration in New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Parent Revolution was also involved in a similar battle in Compton, Calif., which NPQ took note of in 2010. The petition in that case, according to the Washington Post, was successfully challenged in court by the school district and was found to be deficient due to a technicality. NPQ is interested in reader opinions on this law and its potential, both negative and positive. –Ruth McCambridge