Tonight at 6:00 p.m., the Anaheim City School District Board of Education takes up the Parent Trigger petition to convert Palm Lane Elementary into an independent public charter school: district staff will report on whether the petition has valid signatures from a majority of Palm Lane parents. If it does, the Board should, if it’s intent is to follow the law, approve the petition and move forward with re-starting the school as a charter entity.
This takes place against the backdrop of an all-out, anti-charter school misinformation offensive by school employee unions – the Anaheim Elementary Education Association and the California School Employees Association — aimed at de-legitimizing the petition and (in my opinion) giving the Board of Education an excuse to vote against the petition.
I’ve already reported on the “parent information” meeting the unions have been holding. This week, CSEA members have been outside Palm Lane Elementary at morning drop-off and when school lets out, handing anti-charter school flyers to parents. They were also trying to get parents to agree to sign a rescission form stating they wanted their signature removed from the Parent Trigger petition.
I went by yesterday to see for myself. One CSEA member told me she was there to “educate” parents about the effort to convert Palm Lane into a charter school. I asked her if that was bad, and she said charter schools were “private” schools. When I followed up, she retreated and said they were operated by private companies that only cared about making money.
Later, I spent about 30 minutes talking with Bob Tucker, a CSEA staffer and a very pleasant guy. We had a fairly wide-ranging conversation and he responded to my questions, albeit not always directly. For example, I asked why the unions were putting so much energy into lobbying parents now – after the Parent Trigger petition has been turned in – instead while the parents were gathering signatures? After all, since signatures cannot be rescinded from the petition after its been turned in, the current full-court press doesn’t make much sense.
Tucker’s response was basically to shrug and say they didn’t because they didn’t. Personally, I think the reason is the unions underestimated the parents and didn’t believe they could successfully organize and pull it off.
Prior to staking out Palm Lane before and after school, CSEA had filed a public record act request for the Parent Trigger petition, and the ACSD turned over the names and signatures of the 332 parents who signed it. CSEA took those and ran them against to voter roll in order to obtain their addresses, and then went a-visiting.
I spoke yesterday to one of those parents, who told me two CSEA members came to her apartment on Saturday and asked for her by name. She said her initial reaction was shock that these people knew that she had signed the petition. She told me that if she had known that anyone would be able to get that information, she’d have been more reluctant to sign – and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is a one of the underlying motives of this particular union tactic.
The parent related to me the steady stream of anti-charter misinformation fed to her by these two individuals. Among their claims: if Palm Lane converted into a charter school, all the teachers would be let go, and the new teachers wouldn’t have to be credentialed. They said that after three years, that not only could the charter operator expel students who performed poorly on standardized tests, but would do so in order to raise the school’s testing average. They told her Palm Lane would get rid of special education students; that parents would have no say in how the school was run because the charter operator would only care about making money for its shareholders; that the charter operator would be for-profit and so all the money wouldn’t go to the kids; and that parents would eventually have to pay in order to send their children to Palm Lane. They said the Parent Trigger petition circulators weren’t being honest with parents, and had been bribing people into signing in order to get them to sign.
That isn’t informational outreach; that is street-level scare tactics intended to alarm and confuse ordinary parents who take it for granted to people aren’t going to come to the door and pepper them with untruth after untruth. I raised this issue with Bob Tucker from the CSEA, saying those parents doubtless signed that petition with a presumption of privacy, and asked him how he thought a parent would feel if some strangers came to their home to say we know you signed that petition and we’d like to talk to you about it? He sort of shrugged and replied the petition wasn’t private regardless of what the parents might presume and seemed entirely comfortable with this tactic.
It seems to me the unions are hoping to harvest enough parents to either sign a (moot) rescission form, say they didn’t understand what they were signing and/or claim they were bribed into signing, in order to give the school board political cover to reject the petition by claiming it is tainted.
I’ve spoken with Alfonso Flores, whose team trained the parents in how to properly and legally circulate a Parent Trigger petition. He said this is his sixth time working on a Parent Trigger effort, and the unions make the same false claims every time. Given that the false and distorted “information” on charter schools being ladled out by the unions, I don’t put much stock into their claims that signatures were obtained by forbidden means.
Proponents of the charter school conversion have already stated they will not take it lying down if the Board rejects the petition even if it has enough signatures:
“Palm Lane parents understand that they are the architects of their children’s educational futures and are hopeful that District Trustees and officials will honor their qualifying petitions. However, the parents have not gone without obstacles. Anaheim City School District officials have resisted the parent leadership, holding a bevy of special, closed session meetings, using official letterhead to spread rumors of unsubstantiated claims against the organizers, and even turned the names of every parent petitioner over to one of their employee unions, CSEA, which immediately launched illegal rescission campaigns against the parents in violation of adopted State Board of Education implementing regulations” stated Sen. Gloria Romero (Ret.), author of the original law.
Palm Lane parents remain confident of the legality and veracity of their petitions, and fully expect the District to honor them. Nonetheless, they are prepared to appeal any rejection of their petitions in a court of law if that becomes necessary.
If the number of valid signatures meets the legal threshhold, I would hope Anaheim City School District Board of Education members put aside any personal opposition to charter schools, disregard the intense opposition of the school employee unions and follow the law. Board of Education member Bob Gardner told me a few weeks ago that is what he would do> If he does, I hope his fellow board members imitate his example.
The Parent Trigger Law is just that – the law. These parents have demonstrated extraordinary patience with Palm Lane’s educational inadequacies, of which their children bear the brunt. When that patience ran out, they exercised their rights under the Parent Trigger Law. It is a shame they have had to do so in the teeth of opposition from not only the school employee unions but the school district itself. And if their petition meets the valid signature threshold, their legally-expressed intent should be respected by the Board of Education. Parents shouldn’t have to wage an uphill fight against entrenched interests in order to wield greater control over their school, where they send their children. One has to wonder why the prospect of establishing one charter school is so scary to to the public education establishment?