SoCal parents may succeed in school takeover

A deadline is set for tomorrow in a rebellion by parents against teachers and administrators at a public school in Southern California.

Those parents say the school is failing their kids and they hope to be the first to successfully use a state law that would give them the power to change things.

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports that the school district has just 24 hours left to meet the demands of parents who want major changes at one of its struggling schools. What happens here could end up being a model for the nation.

"Why didn't anybody have the belief in my child that she could learn," demanded Doreen Diaz. Her 11-year-old daughter Vanessa had to repeat fifth grade because she was reading at a second-grade level

"She wasn't learning. It came to a point where she would cry every day before coming to school. She didn't want to come to school," Diaz said.

Her school, Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California, is one of the worst performing schools in the state. More than two-thirds of 6th graders there are not proficient in English and math.

Doreen Diaz
Doreen Diaz
CBS News

So Diaz and other fed up parents are using a controversial California law to take control from the local school district. If a majority of parents agree, they can use the so-called Parent Trigger Law to close a failing school, change its staff, or turn it into a charter school, which would be publically financed but privately run. At least three other states have now passed similar laws, including Texas, Ohio and Mississippi.

Armed with 280 signed petitions, the parents in Adelanto are demanding the school district hire a principal of their choosing, one with greater authority to hire and fire teachers.

Current principal David Mobley has only been on the job for 4 months. He wants more time to fix things.

"It's learning how to work within the system. And that's my job as an administrator, work the system and make sure you're getting quality in every classroom. And as far as can I make that happen overnight? No, it's going to be a process," Mobley said.

This is only the second time parents here in California have used this law to try to take over a public school. They did it in Compton last year but it has turned into a long and ugly court battle.

Parents at McKinley Elementary signed a petition to turn their failing public school into a charter, but a judge said it was invalid because the signatures were not dated. The Compton parents are appealing.

Back at Desert Trails the parents have been negotiating with school officials for nearly six weeks now. If they don't reach an agreement, an outside group of educators will help the parents convert the school into a charter, run in part by the parents themselves.

"Somewhere along the line we lost our right, or they thought we lost our right to speak for our children. Well no, we're taking back that right to speak for our children," Diaz said.

Diaz knows parents in other states are watching to see if they succeed.