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Parents seek to take control of failing Los Angeles school

By Brandon Lowrey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Parents at an underperforming Los Angeles elementary school are seeking to wrest control from the nation's second-largest school system a week after parents in a rural California community made history by taking over a failing school there.

Supporters of the latest effort at the 24th Street Elementary School will deliver signed petitions invoking the state's controversial "parent trigger" law on Thursday to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, activists said.

"The parents have been trying to change conditions there for at least the past four years," said David Phelps, a spokesman for Parent Revolution, which has been working with the parents to organize the campaign. "It's time for that to happen."

The move represents a repudiation of the largest school district in a state that in 2010 became the first to pass a trigger law, letting parents of students in failing schools band together to force sweeping change: They can fire teachers, oust administrators or turn the school over to private management.

It also follows a decision last week by a school board in Adelanto, some 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, to transform its struggling Desert Trails Elementary School into a privately managed charter after losing a court battle with parents.

Critics of the parent trigger law say it can divide communities and lead to the privatization of public schools, while proponents say it empowers parents to improve their children's educational opportunities.

Other states, including Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Connecticut, Indiana and Ohio, have since passed similar laws, while other states debate them.

John Rogers, who heads UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said that while takeovers could be seen as attractive to frustrated parents, such moves would not necessarily fix problems such as poor funding and overcrowding.

"Quality public schools emerge from sustained efforts where parents are working in collaboration with teachers," he said.

SCANT IMPROVEMENT

Parent Revolution, which organized the Adelanto takeover, said it was taking aim at the 24th Street school because it has ranked among the bottom of California schools for years. Phelps did not say precisely how much control parents wanted to assert or whether they sought to turn it into a charter.

As in Adelanto, the 24th Street school serves a mostly low-income and minority population and fell short of meeting the state's educational standards in English and mathematics.

Los Angeles school district officials declined to comment on the pending petition.

"At a time where parents and teachers and administrators need to be working together to actually solve these problems, this moves in the absolute opposite direction," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers union, which is opposed to the parent trigger law.

Under California's parent trigger law, which applies to schools that have performed poorly for at least three years, parents can petition for change if they gather signatures of parents representing half the school's students.

Amabilia Villeda, 41, of Los Angeles, has had three children attend 24th Street Elementary and said her oldest daughter, now in eighth grade, left the school unable to read.

"The teachers at her new school started calling me because my daughter wasn't performing and she couldn't read anything," Villeda said through a Spanish translator, adding that she hoped the petition would force the district to improve the school.

In Adelanto, interim superintendent Richard Bray sounded a word of caution, saying the parent trigger petitions interrupted the district's plan to improve Desert Trails, including replacing the principal and support staff.

(Reporting by Brandon Lowrey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

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