Oakland School Closures Spark Wave of Protests

The Oakland School Board meeting on Jan. 31, 2022 was attended by over 1,800 community members outraged by an Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) plan to close or merge 18 schools over the next two years. The meeting lasted until 3:00 am as the board members heard comments from angered community members. The School Board will vote on this proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 8, having given the community just one week’s notice regarding this plan.

While the majority of the OUSD School Board members maintain that the closures are necessary to close a budget deficit due to declining enrollment, parents and teachers know otherwise. Many speakers at the meeting mentioned that the amount of savings the district claimed it would make were paltry. Stefanie Parrott, a parent at Prescott Elementary School, exclaimed, “You could save a maximum of $15 million by cutting these schools, if I understand correctly. With a $700 million budget, that’s just 2.1%. All this… all this misery and heartache for 2.1% is really appalling.”

Other speakers explained that there is data that makes it clear that school closures actually do not lead to savings, and that, in addition, rather than being under-enrolled, some of these schools have wait-lists for students.

Community members expressed outrage that Black and Brown students are always the first to face OUSD’s budget cuts, as their schools have been starved of resources and funds. In fact, 16 of the 19 schools that have been closed in Oakland since 2004 were majority-Black schools, as the school closures have marched hand in hand with gentrification and privatization in Oakland. Speakers also pointed out that educators and families have spent years weaving together a community that cares for students at each site, so the closures don’t just disrupt students’ education experience, they rip apart an entire community. If the closures proceed, students would be dispersed and sent to schools miles away, requiring already stressed parents to find alternative transportation and care for their children, and requiring students, families, and staff to make a whole new array of connections. These are the connections that help students thrive in school, and they’re brutally severed by closures.

Protests have begun

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, the day after the school board meeting, a large contingent of Westlake Middle School staff, faculty and students staged a walk-out, and marched with parents down Broadway, equipped with signs reading “Hands off our schools,” while passersby cheered and cars honked their horns. They were joined by staff, students, and families from several other schools. Many other school communities organized additional protests this week. There was a parent strike at La Escuelita, in which parents kept 379 out of 384 students at home; there was an art build and march to a freeway overpass at Brookfield Elementary; there was a School Board “watch party” at Manzanita Community School; and there have been parent meetings at several sites.

Hunger strike

Two members of the Westlake Middle School community, Moses Omolade and André San-Chez, announced that they would begin a hunger strike on Feb. 1. They say they will only consume water and salt until the School Board declares it will stop all school closures.

Why take this step? As they wrote in their letter, “We come to you full of grief, passion, and fight as we stand in the face of your threats to close and merge our schools…We are fighting for our students, our families, our fellow colleagues and the education that all our communities deserve.” This is exactly what it will take to stop the closures: a movement of students, families, staff and community members organizing and mobilizing to stop business as usual in OUSD and demand, “Hands off our schools!”

Another protest is scheduled for this weekend

Click here for a printable flyer including links to more actions.

We say no to this attack on Black and Brown students!

No to the privatization of public education!

It is unacceptable that we balance budgets on the backs of the children of working people!

We publish below the full text of the letter from the two hunger strikers:

From: The känvəˈkāSH(ə)n – Maurice André San-Chez (shay) & Moses Olanrewaju Omolade of Westlake Middle School

To: Open Letter to Oakland Unified School District Board Members

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022

We come to you full of grief, passion, and fight as we stand in the face of your threats to close and merge our schools. We demand for no school closures and nothing less than accountability from our district representatives in their responsibilities to our communities.

Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell announced on Friday, January 28th, 2022, the proposed closure of 8 schools and 8 merges/truncations of Oakland schools. A special board meeting commenced on January 31st, 2022, highlighting a presentation full of fake numbers that lacked comprehensive data/demographics, and included financial impact reports based on inaccurate assumptions. These slides full of magic equations were used to justify these outrageous school closures, that are blatantly harmful to predominantly Black and Brown children. Over 2,000 concerned community members attended and unanimously opposed Resolution 2122-0026.

Westlake Middle School is just one of 16 schools set to be closed or merged through this resolution. Per OUSD’s data, the students impacted by these potential rapid and unwarranted changes are 36% Black, 42% Latinx, 6% Asian, 2% Pacifica, 6% White, 4% Multiracial, 5% Other, 16% students with additional needs, and 32% English Language Learners.

The racist strategy of closing schools to fix mismanaged budgets is not new; as a community we have been continually attacked by the district’s school closures for decades. What is new, is the impact that Covid-19 has had on how schools operate and the intensified degree to which all students, staff, administrators, and families are struggling with managing their mental health in such uncertain times. The strategic exclusion created by the board’s rushed, 10 day timeline, absolute lack of community involvement and inconsideration for constituents is insulting and contradictory to the goals you claim to be aiming to achieve. We urge each district board member to vote no on Resolution 2122-0026. We demand that you take your hands off our schools!

On February 1st, 2022, Maurice André San-Chez (shay) and Moses Olanrewaju Omolade of Westlake Middle School will begin a hunger strike to end all school closures. During this hunger strike, both San-Chez and Omolade will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of their health until either OUSD ends all school closures and meets to honor our developing community demands OR their internal organs fail and they die.

To our community members, We ask for your support in our demands of the district. Please continue to put pressure on OUSD by writing to your board directors to vote no on February 8th. You can also support by spreading the word about our hunger strike. We aim to garner national attention to raise awareness about these closures, but also bring attention to the pressure that the state has placed on our city and district. It is clear that the OUSD board is ill equipped to find a solution to its funding deficits and mismanagement of funds. However, their poor leadership is not an excuse to justify the irreversible damage that closing our schools has and will continue to have on our students and families for generations.

We are fighting for our students, our families, our fellow colleagues and the education that all our communities deserve. Please spread this letter far and wide to local and national media, medical research groups, and anyone who will stand in solidarity with us.