For over a year, teachers unions and their allies have used bureaucratic games and intimidation to fight "parent-trigger" school reform in California. Now comes evidence that they may have falsified documents.
In January, a group of parents in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto filed petitions to "trigger" changes at their children's failing elementary school. That's their right under a 2010 California law, provided the school's academic conditions are dire enough and a majority of parents support pulling the trigger. Few dispute that Desert Trails Elementary fails its students, yet last week the Adelanto school district ruled that the trigger drive lacks majority support because 97 parents rescinded their original petitions.
But based on interviews we've conducted and sworn affidavits we've reviewed, it's clear that many parents were harassed into rescinding.
In the Desert Trails parking lot and at front doors across Adelanto, strangers confronted parents and spread untruths about the trigger drive: that it would force the immediate closure of Desert Trails, for example, or result in the firing of all teachers, or cause certain children to be expelled. Some parents heard the trigger drive was an embezzlement scheme. Others had their immigration status questioned.
Trigger supporters suspect the malign influence of the California Teachers Association. Such bullying fits into its familiar anti-trigger playbook, and the untruth squads (which generally refused to identify themselves) pinpointed parents and ginned up rescissions with amazing efficiency over merely a few days.
At least three Adelanto parents have also signed affidavits swearing that the rescission documents bearing their signatures were doctored before being delivered (in photocopied form) to the district.
"I am absolutely sure," reads the affidavit of one mother who refused to have her name published for fear of retribution, "that I did not check any of the boxes on the form claiming that I was misled, intimidated or bribed by the Desert Trails Parents Union," which is the group that supports parent trigger. Yet her form on file with the district makes exactly these claims—a remarkable coincidence given the district's rule that it would honor rescissions only if they cited such justifications.
We don't know how many rescissions were falsified; the first two cases came to light only because someone was sloppy enough to file two versions of the same parent's rescission, one without, and one with, boxes checked. But these cases cast doubt on the whole bunch, and the onus is on the district to prove their validity. Working with pro bono lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, the parents have called for investigations by the San Bernardino district attorney and sheriff—and soon, before any crucial documents suddenly go missing.
Some 20 other states are considering parent-trigger laws, so Adelanto's experience is a harbinger. California passed its version precisely to give parents the ability to organize and challenge entrenched union and bureaucratic power. If those powers-that-be can get away with intimidation and tricks to preserve the status quo, then the reform is a farce.