Imagine discovering that an over-worked teacher locked your crying child in a storage closet at school as punishment for not following the rules. Scenes like this are getting the Hollywood treatment in the 20th Century Fox film "Won't Back Down," to be released in theatres on September 28.
The movie touches on parent trigger laws, a takeover movement that grants frustrated parents the right to petition for sweeping changes in low-performing schools.
The law is designed so that if 51% of parents in a failing school agree, they will be given the power to replace teachers, change curriculum, close schools, or convert to a charter school. Charters are publicly financed, independent schools that receive waivers from public school districts in exchange for promising better academic results.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a single mother who teams up with a passionate teacher, played by Viola Davis, to lead a revolt and take charge of their elementary school. The two come head-to-head with a teacher's union rep, played by Holly Hunter, as she spearheads the fierce politics of the trigger laws.
The film is proving to be controversial and is billed to be "inspired by actual events." Yet, many critics argue that the assertion is false as the battle for the trigger law is currently being fought and has yet to come to fruition. California, Texas, Ohio and Connecticut are the four states that currently allow a trigger process.
According the The LA Times, a real life legal battle over a proposed charter school is unfolding in Adelanto, California. Parents, aided by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit, accused petition opponents of fraud and asked the courts to order the Adelanto school board to stop blocking their efforts to select a charter school.
The local board claims that one-fifth of the parents who signed the petition have since revoked their signatures and voted 3 to 1 to reject the parents' chosen charter option, saying there was insufficient time to start one this school year, and instead selected a different overhaul plan.
The original test of the trigger law happened at McKinley Elementary School in Compton in 2011, where 51% of the parents signed a petition to convert the school to a charter. The move drew opposition from the school board and the local teachers union, eventually ending in a legal challenge that led a judge to dismiss the petition on technical grounds.
It seems that the release of "Won't Back Down" is timely. The film was screened at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. It was also screened at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., raising tensions between the Democratic Party and teachers' unions, who make large, political contributions to the Democratic Party.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union, raised objections to the film in an open letter, calling it "divisive" and saying it "resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes."
According the The Huffington Post, the movie's director, Daniel Barnz, said in an interview Saturday that he was "disappointed" by Weingarten's letter:
"I think that people are a bit tired of the finger-pointing and scapegoating within this world. I think they just want to see a way in which our schools can improve. That's the spirit of the film," said Barnz, who described himself as a "liberal Democrat" from a family of educators. "I think this film is an absolute celebration of teaching. It is pro-teacher and celebrates all the incredible things that teachers do," Barnz said.
As of now, 20 states, including Georgia, are pushing for a version of California’s controversial parent trigger bill, even as that state struggles with how to put the law into action.
Has your child had an experience at a public school that made you want to demand reform? Would you support the 'parent trigger' law in your state? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.