Randi Weingarten’s recent statements on the soon-to-be-released Walden Media film “Won’t Back Down” were right in one important regard. This movie is fictional.
But where she missed the mark is that the reality is far worse than the movie depicted.
The parents of Desert Trails Elementary School, in Adelanto, California, the most recent group to use the Parent Trigger law (depicted in the movie as the “Fail-Safe” law) did not set out to denigrate teachers’ unions or take on the school board. They set out to do one thing only: improve their children’s education.
Parents like Cynthia Ramirez, whose daughter has attended Desert Trails Elementary for the past three years, did all the things you would expect engaged parents to do. When she learned that the school was ranked lowest in the district and that majority of students were failing in reading and science, she didn’t pull her daughter out. She got involved. She volunteered at the school and joined the PTA. She met with teachers and other parents. After three years of trying to help her daughter achieve the education she deserved, she had run out of options. That’s when another PTA parent Doreen Diaz spoke to her about forming a Parents’ Union.
Those who are so quick to brand these parents as anti-union should take note that all these parents have fought for is the same right to unionize that teachers enjoy. The one difference: parents are not subject to the same pressures that apply to school boards and district bureaucracies and teacher unions. Their one and only agenda is to support their kids. For too long, parents have not had a seat at the table when it came to decisions involving their children’s education. That changed with the passage of the Parent Trigger law in 2010.
Ironically, the Desert Trails Parents’ Union initially had no interest in their school becoming a charter school. After months of meeting with parents and the community, they proposed a moderate amendment to the teachers’ union contract – based on contracts approved by AFT affiliates across the nation – to help ensure that each child has a good teacher. The school board and the teachers union rejected the parents’ proposal and ultimately filed suit to deny the parents’ petition.
Not only did the judge rule on behalf of the parents, but evidence has emerged that a campaign of intimidation and harassment targeting Desert Trails parents has taken place. The Wall Street Journal reported in a March 2nd editorial, “For over a year, teachers unions and their allies have used bureaucratic games and intimidation to fight ‘parent-trigger’ school reform in California. Now comes evidence that they may have falsified documents.’ The editorial went on to report that strangers confronted parents and told them their children might be expelled, deported or that the trigger drive was an embezzlement scheme. It also reported that documents purporting to show parents rescinding their signatures from the original petition were doctored, with a number of parents signing affidavits that they did not rescind.
And just this week, the school board declared open defiance of the judge’s ruling, with one member declaring, “If I’m found in contempt of court, I brought my own handcuffs, take me away.”
These latest accusations make the movie seem like a G-rated version of reality – one that is actually tame in comparison. And these are not the only distortions of truth.
Let’s examine the facts:
· The claim that parent empowerment efforts are a cover for for-profit charter school takeover of the public school system is a blatantly false statement. In fact, Parent Revolution is on record opposing the for-profit charter system. Also, the parents of Desert Trails Elementary School rejected an application from a for-profit charter because of their stated desire that the charter be a non-profit.
· The claim that a teacher such as the one depicted in the movie would be immediately fired for her attitude and approach is also false. AFT and NEA local affiliates have negotiated union contracts that make it impossible to fire teachers immediately, even for cases of improper sexual conduct.
· The charge that parent trigger laws are being pushed by right wing organizations ignores the fact that organizations and individuals as diverse as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (who provide support for student-focused programs and initiatives established at the national level by the leading teachers' unions), the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and leading Democrats like Rep. George Miller, are all proponents of parent empowerment laws.
It is critical to remember that parents and teachers have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first agenda. We agree it’s good for teachers to be paid more money, and we agree we ultimately need to raise taxes to do it. We agree it’s good for kids if educators are respected, empowered and not micro-managed by a bureaucrat who’s never met their students or set foot in their classroom.
We agree it’s good for kids if educators are unionized and have basic workplace protections. In fact, Randi Weingarten as AFT President has negotiated progressive contracts and supported progressive policies in districts across the country.
Let’s also stipulate that everyone on all sides of this issue are good people who care about kids. Randi Weingarten clearly cares about kids and the future of public education in America.
What we at Parent Revolution will not back down from is our fundamental belief that the status quo in public education is broken because the interests of adults too often trump the interests of children. Empowered parents are the key to systematically ending that dynamic.
This movement is growing. Every time opponents resort to personal attacks, half-truths and conspiracy theories to defend the status quo, they expose themselves as being devoid of any new ideas to save children and parents trapped in failing schools. Every time they fabricate facts because the reality on the ground does not support their position, they make our argument for us better than we ever could as to why parents need power over the education of their own children. Parents know that the losers in a war of sound bites are not the reformers or the teachers’ unions. The losers are their own children.
The late Senator Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
So let’s debate. But let’s stick to the facts. Let’s cut the name-calling and conspiracy theories. Let’s agree it’s time for the adults to start acting like grown-ups. And, most importantly, let’s hold ourselves accountable to making every single decision about school policy and union contracts as if that decision would directly impact our own children.
That’s the premise behind parent empowerment and “Won’t Back Down.”
National Communications Director