Anaheim Elementary School Board Has Opportunity For Redemption At Palm Lane

[This column by former Lincoln Club President Robert Loewen originally appeared in the OC Register on December 10, 2017]

On December 13, the Anaheim Elementary School District can redeem its past behavior by approving New Century as the charter school operator of Palm Lane School. In January, 2015, parents of 332 students at Palm Lane Elementary School submitted signed petitions to the AESD under California’s Parent Trigger Law because the school had posted failing student outcomes for over a decade. The district, more loyal to the status quo than improving student outcomes, sued the parents to block their attempt to transform Palm Lane into a charter school.

The district lost that litigation, but in the meantime, Palm Lane School did not improve. According to data provided by the state, 82.73 percent of Palm Lane students in 2017 failed to meet grade level in English Language Arts (fewer than 20 percent are reading at grade level), and 86.95 percent failed to perform at grade level in math.

The district should be embarrassed by its behavior as found by the trial court. In response to the Parent Trigger petition, the district established a “defective practice” in which “valid signed petitions were not counted,” and then it accused parents of not having enough valid signatures. The trial court also found that the district engaged in “feigned and contrived ignorance” of the identity of lead parents in order to claim that petitioners had not complied with a technicality in the law that required disclosure of lead parents. Rejecting these falsehoods, the trial court ordered the AESD to proceed with the trigger petition, and the appellate courts affirmed on these and other grounds.

That’s where we are now. Under the law, petitioning parents selected New Century to operate Palm Lane as a charter school. Almost immediately, a misinformation campaign began against New Century by word of mouth in which parents were informed that New Century would charge extra to attend Palm Lane charter, weed out low-performing students, not offer special education, speech therapy or other services that are legally required, and not provide credentialed teachers, none of which is true. This misinformation has been repeated in phone calls to parents by persons who say they represent the district. The district denies knowledge about this misinformation campaign, but one wonders how the callers were able to target parents of Palm Lane without access to district records.

Under the law, the district’s board must approve New Century before Palm Lane charter can open, but that should be a no brainer since the track record and reputation of New Century’s leadership makes it likely that student outcomes will improve at Palm Lane as soon as it takes over. It appears that staff will recommend approval, giving the school board a chance to redeem itself. The hearing on the New Century approval is December 13 at Anaheim Elementary School Board headquarters. The public should come to support the brave parents of Palm Lane.

Robert Loewen is chairman emeritus of the Lincoln Club of Orange County.

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