The California Court of Appeals issued a ruling today upholding a trial court ruling in favor of group of poor and working class parents using the state Parent Trigger Law to convert Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim into an independent public charter school. The ruling presumably ends a three-year battle the parents had waged in the teeth of intense opposition from the school district’s leadership, governing board and unions.
“Today’s victory is an affirmation of the rights of parents to fight for a high quality educational opportunity for their children. It is an affirmation of the spirit and vision of the Legislature when we wrote and enacted this law. It is a tribute to the courage of the Palm Lane parents who had the strength to fight for their rights in a California court of law,” said former state Senator and Parent Trigger Law author Gloria Romero, who worked alongside the Palm Lane parents throughout.
The group, calling themselves the Padres de Palm Lane Elementary United, began gathering signatures for their Parent Trigger Law in the summer of 2014. They turned in the requisite number of signatures, representing at least half of Palm Lane students on January 14, 2015. For the next two years, the Anaheim Elementary School District forced the parents to ride a grueling, frustrating roller coaster of deception, obstruction and litigation in an attempt to stop Palm Lane’s conversion to charter school status.
At a meeting packed with school union members from across Orange County, the AESD Board of Education rejected the petition on February 19, 2015, saying the petition lacked sufficient valid signatures Evidence that emerged during the district court trial made it clear the school district deliberately sandbagged the verification process. The district also claimed Palm Lane was not subject to the Parent Trigger Law, based on a tortured interpretation of a temporary technicality.
The District Court rejected all the AESD’s arguments, criticized its conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair” and ordered the district to allow the charter conversion process to proceed. Instead, the school district appealed the ruling to the California Court of Appeals, which heard the case on February 25 of this year – more than two years after the original Parent Trigger petition had been submitted.
By the end of the hearing, it was clear the three-judge panel was very skeptical of the school district’s arguments seriously and would rule in favor of the Palm Lane parents. The ruling issued today did exactly that, upholding the District Court’s ruling that the Anaheim Elementary School District must rescind its February 19, 2015 rejection of the Parent Trigger Petition and act to accept it, and allow the Palm Lane parents to immediately begin soliciting and selecting charter school proposals.
The California Court of Appeals opinion can be read here.
This is a huge win for this group of parents and the charter school movement over all. It is a big defeat for the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education, which actively sought to sabotage the petition process and then spent hundreds of thousands in district funds on a futile and mean-spirited lawsuit against the Palm Lane parents. Now they will also have to pay the legal costs the Palm Lane parents incurred fighting for their rights under state law.
UPDATE (April 29, 2017): The Lincoln Club of Orange County, which played a critical role in sustaining the Palm Lane parents in the face of AESD opposition and litigation, issued this statement:
“The Lincoln Club of Orange County is thrilled with the court ruling today, which finally allows the students of Palm Lane elementary to escape their failing school and convert it into a charter school. The Anaheim Elementary district should be ashamed of itself for suing these student’s parents, and spending nearly a million of taxpayer dollars trying to fight them. Justice prevailed!”