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California Expose

High Noon for Parent Trigger?




Photo: Shireen Alihaji

Whether or not Parent Trigger represents a bold frontier in the movement to privatize the nation’s public education system, its implementation in California’s High Desert does bear some of the freewheeling aspects of the old Wild West.

Particularly when it comes to accountability and due process. Where do parents or teachers blow the whistle if they suspect a charter school is violating education code or the promises made to students in its own chartering language?

In California, the chartering school district has the statutory authority, and arguably the responsibility, to investigate violations of the law and of the school’s charter. Under Education Code §47607, it may revoke a school’s charter if the school violates the law or violates the conditions set forth in its charter.

Eight former Desert Trails teachers have emphasized to Capital & Main that it was only after frustrated parents told them that Parent Revolution said they were on their own in working out any grievances directly with Desert Trails that the teachers stepped in and took their own allegations of code and charter violations to the school’s chartering authority, Adelanto Elementary School District (AESD).

When asked to comment on the teacher allegations, however, AESD at first claimed to “not have first hand knowledge” of the document, then said it couldn’t be certain whether it received it or not. After three weeks of back-and-forth queries, officials eventually admitted that they had simply sent the allegations on to Desert Trails.

“The District forwarded the complaint to [Desert Trails] and directed [Desert Trails] to respond appropriately to the complaint,” wrote AESD chief personnel officer Steven L. Desist, adding that “District staff and I have been advised by Ms. Debra Tarver, [Desert Trails’] executive director that she immediately addressed the concerns set forth in the complaint to the satisfaction of the complaining party.”

The teachers say they have never heard from Tarver or spoken to the school about addressing their complaints.

Parent Revolution spokesman Gabe Rose admitted to Capital & Main that “we have certainly heard of complaints and problems, as is the case at any school, and we have always worked to help resolve those issues as best we can.  Sometimes that means helping organize parents to push the school on an issue, sometimes it means helping to facilitate a conversation between parents and the school to work through a disagreement.”

In the instance that push does come to shove, however, Rose advised that the next links in the oversight chain are “the district and its school board, the board of the charter school, and in the case of an alleged violation of the education code, the California Department of Education.”

For concerned parents, however, taking grievances directly to Sacramento — or speaking out at all — may be asking a lot of the low-income and often undocumented immigrants who make up three-quarters of Desert Trails parents.

Former Desert Trails kindergarten teacher Bertha Miramontes, who lives in Adelanto, added that even the parents who most wanted to come forward eventually had second thoughts.

“The parents,” she told Capital & Main, “said they are just afraid to talk, period, to anyone, because they don’t want their kids retaliated against or they don’t want the school to be shut down.”


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