Major Motion Picture on Education Reform Inspired by Real Events
“Won’t Back Down” Tells The Story of Parents Uniting to Fix Their Children’s Failing School;
And Now Meet the Latino Parents Who Did Just That…Their Story May be Even More Alarming and Compelling than the Movie
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – A new motion picture released nationwide on Friday, September 28th tells the dramatic story of a parent, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a teacher, played by Viola Davis, who join forces to fix their children’s failing school. Produced by Walden Media, “Won’t Back Down” is “inspired by real events.” The parents who took over a struggling school in Adelanto, California, and representatives of Parent Revolution, the non-profit, non-partisan organization that supported their efforts are available for interviews about the issue and their real-life struggles.
Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, is by all standards a failing school. Last year, two-thirds of the children failed the state reading exam. Nearly 80 percent failed the math exam. The school has not met state standards for six years.
Using a “Parent Trigger law” (depicted in the movie as the Fail-Safe law) that was passed in California in 2010, thanks to the efforts of Parent Revolution, the parents of Desert Trails Elementary School secured petition signatures from more than 70 percent of the schools parents and formed a Parents’ Union to bring reform to their children’s failing school.
In the movie, the fictional parent and teacher played by Viola Davis is subjected to personal attacks. But what happened to the parents of Desert Trails is even more alarming. For more than a year, teachers unions and their allies have used bureaucratic games and intimidation to fight the “parent-trigger” school reform. A large immigrant community, the Desert Trails parents were threatened with deportation and their kids with expulsion. They were lied to and harassed. And, there’s evidence that documents may have been falsified in the effort to force parents to rescind their petition signatures.
According to an editorial last March in the Wall Street Journal, “In the Desert Trails parking lot and at front doors across Adelanto, strangers confronted parents and spread untruths about the trigger drive: that it would force the immediate closure of Desert Trails, for example, or result in the firing of all teachers, or cause certain children to be expelled. Some parents heard the trigger drive was an embezzlement scheme. Others had their immigration status questioned. At least three Adelanto parents have also signed affidavits swearing that the rescission documents bearing their signatures were doctored before being delivered (in photocopied form) to the district. “I am absolutely sure,” reads the affidavit of one mother who refused to have her name published for fear of retribution, “that I did not check any of the boxes on the form claiming that I was misled, intimidated or bribed by the Desert Trails Parents Union,” which is the group that supports parent trigger. Yet her form on file with the district makes exactly these claims—a remarkable coincidence given the district’s rule that it would honor rescissions only if they cited such justifications.”
After nine months of trying to work with the school district, the parents filed suit. Last July, after reviewing all the documents and evidence, the judge ruled on behalf of the parents. Now, despite the judge’s ruling on behalf of the Desert Trails parents, the school district has refused to comply, with one member claiming he’d rather be taken off in handcuffs. A new suit has been filed on behalf of the parents to compel the district to adhere to the judge’s ruling. In the meantime, Desert Trails parents are forced to send their kids to face another year at Desert Trails, which saw test scores drop even lower. The top leadership of the district – including the superintendent and two deputy superintendents –resigned in the past few months. The district is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and is borrowing from reserves just to pay its monthly bills.
The parents of Desert Trails are the reality behind “Won’t Back Down.”
Parent Revolution was founded by Ben Austin, a California native and education reform advocate, in January 2009 to help empower parents to change their child’s failing schools through the same principles employed by unions. The movement launched in Los Angeles, where parents won an early victory with the passage of the historic Public School Choice resolution by the school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, led by Board Member Yolie Flores.
Individuals available for interview about the school reform efforts include:
· Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution since 2008. Ben is a former member of the California State Board of Education and served as a Deputy Mayor under Mayor Richard Riordan from 2000-2001, where he helped craft the mayor’s education reform policy. From 2002-2006, he was Senior Advisor to Rob Reiner and First 5 California, where he helped create LAUP (Los Angeles Universal Preschool), a $600 million preschool program rooted in high standards, accountability and parental choice. Ben also served in the Clinton White House in a variety of roles.
· Doreen Diaz, coordinator of the Desert Trails Parent Union. When she volunteered at Desert Trails as a PTA member and school site council member, she soon discovered that the culture of the school was inherently negative and put adult needs above the students’ needs. She spoke to the board about her concerns to no avail. Her daughter was in the special day class and her needs were not being met. According to Doreen: “The only solution ever offered to me was to move my child to a different school, which wasn’t a solution. Parents should not have to move their kids to other schools, or opt for charter schools just because the status quo at their local school refuses to take action and do what is right by our children.” Her advice to other parents is: “If you feel that your child is not getting the education he/she deserves stand up and fight for them. You are your child’s voice.”
· Cynthia Ramirez, mother of 2 children, a 3rd grader at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, Calif., and a rising kindergartener. Their family moved to Adelanto when they found a home walking distance to the elementary school, not knowing at the time that the school was ranked lowest in the district. When her daughter started kindergarten there, she began to hear from other parents about their experiences at Desert Trails. All of them had the same advice, “Move your daughter out before she gets to third grade.” They had already purchased their home and couldn’t move. Cynthia volunteered at the school and found that her daughter was rarely challenged in class. She was also dismayed at the attitude that the teachers displayed toward the parents. She was invited by another parent to a parent union meeting and didn’t hesitate. According to Cynthia, “It only took that one meeting for me to decide to be a part of it all. It is us parents who ultimately have the last say in our children’s education, I was not going to miss that opportunity.”
· Jose Morales, father of two and Desert Trails Elementary parent. Jose and his wife Jessica are both attending Victor Valley College, and have found that education has become an important part of their family’s lives. Jose notes: “As a parent it was disheartening to find out that my child’s school had been classified as an underperforming school; at the bottom six percent in the county. Desert Trails has continuously failed to make adequate yearly progress and has reported unacceptable scores for the past six years; this has become an unfortunate trend at our children’s expense. I soon discovered that the most essential activist for my son and daughter’s education is me (the parent).” When Jose first became aware of the state of education at his children’s school, he asked one of the aides there why she tolerated the state of affairs. According to Jose, her response was: “I’m waiting for them to fire me so I can leave but they won’t.” Inspired to join the Desert Trails Parent Union, Jose currently serves as the recruitment coordinator. His objective is to inform parents of the Union’s educational goals for children. His hope is that in 2013, Adelanto will produce a thriving school with a kids-first agenda. As he notes: “The objective is for parents, students and educators to work together in achieving a common goal of academic success for all students.”
About Parent Revolution www.ParentRevolution.org
Parent Revolution was founded in January 2009. Today, the non-profit organization helps parents pass and utilize Parent Trigger laws to transform under-performing schools. Through the use of sophisticated organizing techniques, Parent Revolution helps parents analyze their school’s performance, and organize to create Parents Unions, with the goal of dramatically improve academic outcomes for their children.