Louisiana’s top school board has approved rules that, for the first time, will allow parents to petition the state to take over failing public schools.
The measure, known as “parent trigger,” was part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education package that emerged from the 2012 legislative session.
It is modeled somewhat after a California law pushed by a self-styled Clinton and Obama Democrat as a way to allow communities to spark “radical change” in education.
Jindal touted the change as a way to give parents another tool when their child is attending a D or F school, as rated by the state.
The new policies were approved earlier this week by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE.
Under current rules, failing public schools face state takeovers after four years.
The new law would allow that to happen after three years through a petition process.
The key hurdle is that takeover advocates would have to collect signatures from 50 percent of the parents or guardians of students attending the school, plus one more, and submit the petition to the state Department of Education.
Under the plan, the department will be required to post information on its website about parent petitions, including sample petitions, what schools can be targeted, how many signatures would be required and procedures and deadlines for completing the process.
Schools carrying state-issued letter grades of D or F for three consecutive years would be on the list.
Nearly one out of five public schools in Louisiana meets that criteria now, according to the department.
The petitions would include the name of the student, the relationship to the student of the man or woman signing the petition, date signed, contact information and consent information that makes clear the information is part of a public record.
The rules prohibit parents and others circulating the petition from being harassed, which has been alleged in California, where the first such law was enacted in 2010.
That includes intimidation, threats or efforts to hinder the name-gathering process.
Violators would face criminal prosecution.
School, district and school board employees would be prohibited from using public resources to back or oppose a petition.
State school takeover advocates would have 90 days to collect the names after the state releases the list of schools that can be targeted, which is usually in October.
If backers fall short they would have another 30 days to collect enough valid names.
If successful state officials would post such a notice on the department’s website and spell out procedures for school takeover opponents to challenge the names.
The agency would be required to accept challenges to any names for at least 15 days after notification that the petition was finished.
Challenges could include charges that the student did not attend the school, that the signature was a forgery, that it was signed as a result of harassment or because of the promise of a gift.
Erroneous dates with the signature and misspelled names would not be considered acceptable grounds for a challenge.
The BESE-approved rules also say that “signatures shall not be discounted over technicalities if the clear intent of the parent or legal guardian was to support the petition.”
If the department concludes that the petition has enough signatures, the state superintendent of education would have the authority to move the school to the Recovery School District, which is where troubled public schools are placed under state control.
It could then be run directly by the state or converted to a charter school, which is supposed to offer innovative classroom methods.
Lottie Beebe, a BESE member from Breaux Bridge, said parents should have the option of submitting petitions to return schools from the Recovery School District to the local school board’s jurisdiction.
No such provision is in the new law.
BESE President Penny Dastugue said such a change would require study, in part because of existing contracts that govern public schools under state control.