Share

Opinion: Columnists

Sunday Reflection: The real story behind 'Won't Back Down'

|

I recently participated in a nationally televised panel on the movie "Won't Back Down" about parent trigger laws with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten leads one of the most powerful teachers unions in the country, one that is a vocal opponent of parent trigger laws, the very type that enabled me to organize a parents union at my daughter's elementary school.

Desert Trails Elementary is a persistently failing school, one systemically failing under federal law for years. When I learned of the conditions, I launched a PTA, eventually serving as its president. I reached out to teachers and administrators. I spoke to other parents in our desert community of Adelanto, Calif., parents of working-class families like mine frustrated by the lack of action for our kids. But our school continued to fail our children.

Then I heard about the parent trigger law passed in California in 2010, through the efforts of a nonprofit organization called Parent Revolution. The law states that, if 51 percent of the parents at a low-performing school sign a petition, they have the right to transform the school.

I went door-to-door to meet other Desert Trails parents. We formed the Desert Trails Parent Union, eventually getting 70 percent of the school's parents to sign a parent trigger petition.

Our first proposal was a moderate amendment to the teachers union contract, modeled after contracts AFT affiliates had already approved in other districts. The proposal would have maintained Desert Trails as a wall-to-wall unionized, district-run school. The district rejected it.

Then representatives of the district and union struck back with a calculated rescission campaign. Their tactics made the dirty tricks depicted in the movie "Won't Back Down" seem tame by comparison.

They told some parents the school would be shut down as a result of their efforts. They took photographs of the parents who refused to rescind their signatures. Some parents who were undocumented felt their immigration status was being used against them.

With the help of pro bono attorneys, we filed suit. Last July, we won a historic victory in court with the judge ruling on our behalf, upholding our right to organize and select a new nonprofit charter model.

I was excited to go face to face with Weingarten to ask her directly how she could justify such intimidation. I also wanted to see how she could defend a recent memo she sent to journalists distorting the facts about Desert Trails. In her memo, she wrote: "Many [of the Desert Trails] parents report feeling deceived by the for-profit charter-backed organizers who came in to gather petitions. They actually sued to take their signatures back when they found out they were being used to give their school away to a charter company."

Weingarten knows better. The parents of Desert Trails launched our effort. We were the ones who collected those signatures, not some imaginary for-profit company. We also specifically rejected for-profit transformation proposals. The charter was our last option when the school district refused to hear our concerns. We're offended that she would insinuate we are manipulated by outside interests, when our only interest is our children.

On the panel, she told me how she understood my frustration over my daughter's education and how she shared my goals of giving her a great school. But after the lights and the cameras turned off, she left the stage and sent a tweet deploring the absence of parents who want "real" empowerment at the panel discussion. I had been sitting right next to her for the entire discussion. Her tweet made me feel just like our school district has made me feel for years: invisible.

It is Weingarten's union that fights hardest against parent trigger laws, despite the fact we are fighting for the same right to organize that her teacher-members enjoy -- a right we support.

We know how critical teachers are to the success of our children. We have tried to work collaboratively with teachers and teachers unions to bring meaningful education reform to our failing school. The time has come for the leadership of our nation's teachers unions to afford us the same respect and consideration.

Doreen Diaz is the president of the Desert Trails Parent Union and a former president of the Desert Trails PTA.

Editor's note: The movie "Won't Back Down" was produced by a company owned by Philip A. Anschutz. He also owns Clarity Media Group, the parent company of The Washington Examiner.

View article comments Leave a comment