History in the making happened last week when the Honorable Steve Malone in the San Bernardino Superior Court made a highly anticipated ruling on the Desert Trails Parent Union’s "Parent Trigger" petition to transform Desert Trails Elementary School. In his ruling, Judge Malone upheld the parent's union petition, while overturning the Adelanto School District’s attempts to throw-out the petition on illegitimate and illegal grounds.
Additionally, Judge Malone's decision is precedent setting, with national implications, as it is the first time a Parent Trigger petition has been verified in the United States.
The decision comes after years of frustration and near-defeat for the parents of children attending Desert Trails Elementary School. The school has endured a cycle of failure and under-achievement for many years, consistently ranking as the lowest performing elementary school in the Adelanto School District, as well as in the bottom 10% of all California elementary schools. Two-thirds of students who graduate are unable to read or do math at grade level. Academic scores have continued to drop over the past three years.
Despite numerous attempts to improve their school by working within the system, the parents found the District unresponsive to their concerns and requests. Last year, the parents at Desert Trails reached out to Parent Revolution and formed the Desert Trails Parent Union.
In November –still frustrated by the District's stonewalling – the Parent Union launched a Parent Trigger campaign with the intent of finding common ground with the District to transform Desert Trails Elementary through in-district reform. Two months later, on January 12, 2012, the Parent Union submitted its petition to the District with signatures from 70% of the school parents. At the same time, the parents continued to seek collaborative solutions.
The Adelanto School District, however, chose confrontation and intimidation over collaboration. On two separate occasions, the District rejected the Parent Union petition, basing its spurious decision on an illegal and unethical "rescission" campaign coordinated by outside special interests. Despite irrefutable evidence showing fraudulent doctoring of the "rescission" petitions, the District remained intransigent.
The Desert Trails Parent Union then went to the San Bernardino Superior Court and Judge Malone asking for protection of their constitutional rights. Last week's decision is a much-hailed vindication of their efforts.
Doreen Diaz, lead petitioner and the Coordinator of the Desert Trails Parent Union commented, “In speaking for all the Desert Trails parents, this is a huge milestone in our struggle for our children to receive the basic education they are entitled to and deserve.”
Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution stated, "This is an historic victory for the courageous parents of Desert Trails. These parents refused to give-up, even after losing two school board votes in the wake of an illegal rescission campaign riddled with fraud and forgeries. These parents took on the most powerful special interests in the state, and they won. Today, we close one chapter and open another. We celebrate the culmination of a long and arduous struggle, and we embrace the historic challenge ahead of transforming Desert Trails for the parents and children it is supposed to serve.”
Mark Holscher, pro bono counsel from Kirkland & Ellis, commented, “We appreciate the careful consideration Judge Malone gave the parents in this precedent setting case. This ruling will pave the way for parents across California to secure their fundamental right to a quality education for their children.”
In issuing his Order, Judge Malone not only upheld the validity of the petition and ordered the District to immediately accept it; he put to rest the notion that parents can be bullied into “rescinding” legally gathered signatures. Specifically, Judge Malone found that “rescissions” are not allowed anywhere in the law, and found that the “District and Trustees decision not to count 97 signatures amounts to an abuse of discretion.”
“Once the petition was submitted, the District and the Trustees lacked authority to reject 97 signatures from the petition based on subsequent extrinsic evidence of recession . . . the District and Trustees have a mandatory legislative duty to include those signatures. The inclusion of those 97 signatures raises the number of qualified signatures to greater than 50%.”
In issuing the Writ, Judge Malone ordered the Adelanto School District and Adelanto School District Board of Trustees to rescind their previous decisions denying the petition and immediately allow the parents to move forward with the process of transforming their school.