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Parents can petition state to take over low-performing schools

Last Modified: Friday, July 06, 2012 4:34 PM

By Ashley Withers / American Press

Parents will soon be able to petition the state to take over low-performing public schools — a new policy that could affect as many as 17 schools in Calcasieu Parish.

The new “parent trigger” policy was a part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package and was approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in late June.

The state Department of Education expects the policy to go into effect in October.

Schools that fail to meet the state’s minimum academic standards for four consecutive years are eligible for state intervention and could be forced to be a part of the Recovery School District.

Under the new plan, schools that have been given a letter grade of a D or F for three consecutive years could face state intervention if the school’s parents ask for it. According to the Education Department, almost one of every five schools meets that criterion.

In Calcasieu Parish, 17 schools could qualify, including 10 elementary schools, five middle schools and two high schools. The tally is based on 2010-2011 school performance scores and the two previous school years.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the department, said schools will not be officially eligible until the 2011-2012 school performance scores are released. The first list of eligible schools is expected in October.

Parents who want to use the “parent trigger” will have to band together and collect signatures from 50 percent of the parents or legal guardians of students attending the school, plus one more signature, and submit the petition to the Education Department. The petitions are public records.

“It’s an opportunity. If parents feel their child’s needs are not being met, they can pool together and use this as a way to deal with the issue,” said Holly Boffy, the District 7 BESE representative.

If parents acquire the signatures, the school will be removed from the jurisdiction of the local school board and be placed into the Recovery School District.

“I think it’s something parents need to consider carefully. Joining the RSD, you’re looking at a change in leadership, a change in faculty,” Boffy said. “Parents need to make sure they want that kind of change before they sign the petition.”

Landry said petitions must be submitted no later than 90 calendar days after the release of the list of eligible schools and the standard petition. Once the department verifies signatures and certifies petitions, the state superintendent of education and BESE will determine whether the transfer merits approval.

The effective date of the transfer to the RSD will be July 1 after final approval.

A school transferred to the RSD may be directly operated by the RSD or as a Type 5 charter school.

The policy says that after a school becomes a part of the RSD, the district will “engage in community outreach” to determine the type of school model to be used.

The new policy also says parents cannot be intimidated or threatened into signing or not signing the petition. School board, district and school-specific employees are also not allowed to use public resources to support or oppose a petition.

“It’s really up to the parents who are a part of the school’s community if they think the district is doing their best to improve the school,” Boffy said. “I don’t think people are going to take advantage of this. It’s not something a couple of people can just decide to do. It’s a pretty serious process.”

Boffy said she supported the policy.

“When a parent calls me and they say the school has given up on their child, there is not a lot myself as a BESE member can do. This puts it in the parent’s hands,” Boffy said.

“It also lets districts know that they aren’t entitled to those children. These children are a privilege to teach. It will hopefully change the way they think about the children in our care.”

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