Frustrated Parents Fought to Reclaim Their Kids’ Destiny—And It Worked

In this op-ed, David Phelps of Parent Revolution shares how parents made history at 24th Street Elementary in Los Angeles.

Parents of children at 24th Street Elementary come together to take over a failing school. (Photo c/o Parent Revolution)
David Phelps is the national communications director for the Los Angeles based non-profit Parent Revolution.

The parents of children attending the 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles made history this week. And, in doing so, the use of “Parent Trigger” legislation to ensure parents have a seat at the education decision-making table for their children has gone mainstream.

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted 5-1 to accept the selection recommendation of the 24th Street parents for a new arrangement to transform what has been widely recognized as a chronically failing school over many years.

The LAUSD Board vote is historic because, for the first time, a school district will partner with a high-quality, nonprofit charter operator to jointly improve opportunities for children trapped in a spiral of educational failure.

The 369 parents from 24th Street Elementary who signed the “Parent Trigger” petition did not set out to make history. Their goal was very focused: changing conditions at the school so their children had every chance to succeed.

Three years ago, many of these same parents tried a similar process. They organized, they signed a petition, they submitted it to the school district—and no one responded. Therefore, nothing changed for their kids. The 2010 California “Parent Trigger” law gave these frustrated parents a powerful voice, one that legally requires school districts and school boards to listen. Most importantly, the law requires the districts and boards to respond.

The LAUSD Board and Superintendent responded positively to the petition submitted by the 369 24th Street Elementary School parents on the 17th of January. Unlike previous “Parent Trigger” efforts, there were no legal challenges to the parents’ rights. There was no questioning of the validity of signatures. There was no visible or vocal opposition from the teachers’ union.

Instead, the original spirit and intent of the “Parent Trigger” law came into play. Everyone agreed that the educational needs of all the children at 24th Street Street Elementary School had to come first. The underlying meme was “Collaboration, not confrontation.” 

And, as the parents reviewed the substantial proposals from a number of potential operators—including LAUSD—the parents made a radical decision. They requested (some might say demanded) LAUSD and Crown Prep Academy, which had submitted one of the other proposals, to merge their proposals and arrive at a partnership arrangement for the ultimate educational good of their children.

Having watched and worked firsthand with the parents of 24th Street Elementary School, and now the parents of another school in the Watts neighborhood, I have nothing but complete admiration for their resilience and unwavering commitment to doing everything they can for their children.

The critics of “Parent Trigger” dismiss these efforts as being nothing more than the cynical manipulation of unaware parents.

The critics of “Parent Trigger” dismiss these efforts as being nothing more than the cynical manipulation of unaware parents by moneyed interests who want to privatize public education.

To this criticism, I simply respond: Let them come to 24th Street. Let them come to Watts. Let them come to Haddon. Let them come to Desert Trails.

Let me introduce you to Amabilia and Erica and Llury and Jose and the dozens of other parents who have chosen to reclaim the destiny of their children. Talk with these parents and hear, firsthand, the dreams for their children—and the years of despair that have brought them to this point.

And, after hearing their stories, I challenge the critics to look these same parents in the eye and repeat the tired, cynical old lines of billionaire manipulation they have previously trotted out.

This week, the parents of 24th Street Elementary School showed the nation it is possible for parents, administrators, educators, school boards, and policymakers to work together for the common good around a kids-first agenda.

More and more parents are organizing around “Parent Trigger.” It is an idea whose time has come. This week, the 24th Street Elementary School parents placed “Parent Trigger” in the mainstream of educational opportunity for every child—and it will not be turned back.

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