High stakes over ‘parent trigger’: Closed session discussion tries to avoid 20th Street lawsuit
Mike Szymanski | May 11, 2016
The LA Unified school board broke into a surprise closed session for several hours Tuesday afternoon in the middle of their public meeting in order to head off a potential “parent trigger” lawsuit over 20th Street Elementary School.
All morning, the school board was in closed session to discuss employee actions, contract renewals and pending litigation. Then, in the middle of the 1 p.m. public meeting, school board secretariat Jefferson Crain said they were going into closed session again to discuss the potential litigation involving the elementary school.
Board member Monica Garcia, who has worked with the 20th Street parents to try to solve the issues, said Wednesday that the closed-door session wasn’t merely to stop the threatened lawsuit.
“We are making every effort to listen to all of the concerns, the dreams and aspirations of all the players and give energy into making that a better school,” Garcia told LA School Report.
Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution — a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — said the attorney representing the parents “made it very clear that there’s pending litigation and that’s why in the closed sessions they went in to see what the settlement would look like. The parents expressed clearly there’s no plausible deal without a significant shift in who’s managing the school.”
But the district didn’t offer enough, Rose said. “The parents need autonomy and without the necessary changes, they will go the legal route and be successful. The district never did any of the things they promised, so of course there’s a lot of hesitation on the part of the parents.”
One of the parents, Omar Calvillo, who helped file the trigger against the district, said the parents are trying to work on a deal with Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that could offer a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools in the South Central LA area.
“We like the Partnership, but the deal the district offered still had them completely in charge of our school,” Calvillo said. “The attorneys are negotiating, and that’s probably what is going on in the closed session.”
No one seems to want to go to court. “We don’t want a lawsuit, it’s not good for the district or school or community,” Calvillo said. “We care for LAUSD, there are some great teachers. We want to work with the district.”
After a March meeting with Superintendent Michelle King and other district officials at the school, Calvillo said some things have improved. “They fixed the fence and the yard and have some professional development for the teachers, but we haven’t seen much in the classroom. We need something more concrete.”
Even the most recent school report card showed only slight improvements, and the 5th-graders passing the California Standards Test was at 37 percent while the district average is 47 percent. On the new CORE accountability system, the school scored a 46 out of 100. The district average was 60.
“We are very nervous about what the district promises because we have been promised things before and they never happened,” Calvillo said. “We just want the best quality education for our kids.”
In a recent letter to the parents, David Holmquist, the district’s general counsel, acknowledged that the parents collected more than 50 percent of the family signatures required for a parent trigger takeover.
“Based on our review, the district will not contest a claim that 50 percent signature threshold was met,” the letter stated.
Garcia said that no decision has been made at the district level, but she thinks that the Partnership program could work for the school. She said there are exciting schools in the area.
“There’s a very successful parent energy at this school site, and we want to meet the needs of parents without them having to go elsewhere,” Garcia said. “I understand that people are not satisfied with the pace of change, I understand that, and it is the responsibility of the district to to change that.”