After five years of getting nowhere with Los Angeles Unified officials, fed-up parents in Sunland-Tujunga are using a new state law to force change at a long-troubled middle school.
Parents and community members say problems at Mount Gleason Middle School, which has been on a federal list of under-performing campuses for a dozen years, go beyond failing test scores.
"There is an unsafe atmosphere at this school that is spilling over into the community...," said Lydia Grant, a resident and parent of a former Mount Gleason student. "People are tired of it and we want to see change."
Thanks to new legislation, known as the "parent trigger" law, they're able to do something about it.
Some administrators questioned whether the motivation to have the school taken over was spurred by genuine parent concern, or outward pressure from community groups.
"One thing is for residents of Mount Gleason to initiate this trigger," said Jose Rodriguez, an LAUSD director for the school.
"But it's another thing for an outside group to come in and encourage parents to use this trigger law."
Perhaps Rodriguez was referring to the Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles group that created the idea of a parent trigger, initially to be used in LAUSD.
Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, said after the district passed a watered-down version of the trigger, he decided to take the fight to Sacramento.
"The whole purpose of this law is to give parents power," Austin said.
"Parents are in the best position to make decisions about what's good for their kids and their future... Why shouldn't they get more control?"
The Parent Revolution, which has close ties to Green Dot public schools, a large charter management organization in Los Angeles, is working with parents around Mount Gleason and believes that the school could be among the first to be reformed with the new law.
However Austin denied playing anything but an advisory role in the parents' decision to organize.
"We're not orchestrating.... It's very patronizing to think that we would be making these kinds of decisions."