After much public protest and outcry, the Oakland Unified School District ultimately shut down two K-8 schools and the middle school grades of one more. One of the schools that was on the chopping block was Parker K-8. But a handful of determined parents and community members have refused to go down without a fight and have carried out an ongoing occupation of the school since May 25. During the summer months, volunteer supporters of the occupation offered summer school classes for the young people of the neighborhood. Despite facing scuffles with hired security and supporters facing retaliation from the district, the occupation has continued for over 100 days.
There are many reasons why school closures can have profoundly negative consequences, disrupting the lives of students and communities. One of these consequences was made clear when a 9-year-old elementary school student who attended Parker last year went missing during the school day. This caused terror for all connected to the student and school community. Fortunately, after several hours, he was found later in the day wandering East Oakland by himself.
So what led to this student disappearing?
The young boy, formerly at Parker K-8, was sent to Markham Elementary School, the school nearest to his home, one mile away. Despite schools like Markham being presented as “welcoming schools” for the students displaced by closures, the 9-year-old did not feel safe, and felt compelled to leave campus without permission or notification. He attempted to walk home. However, he ended up getting lost because he didn’t know the area. He was fortunately found and brought to safety.
Are “welcoming schools” like Markham given additional, adequate resources to ensure the social-emotional well-being of their students, to ensure that they genuinely feel safe, whether they have been displaced by closures or are born and raised in the neighborhood? Of course not.
In addition, regardless of what one thinks about how justified it is for a young student to leave school without permission, the fact that he couldn’t find his way home should be an indication that displacing students can have big consequences.
Ultimately, there can be no question that permanently shutting down schools can and does hurt communities.
The attacks are not over. The district plans to shut down five more schools and cut out the middle school grades of an additional school at the end of this school year. We all need to join the fight and say “no school closures!”