Almost a year after the OUSD school board voted to close, merge, and downsize eleven Oakland schools, the decision has been rescinded. The new board, led by Mike Hutchinson, voted to save five schools from closure–Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy–as well as stop the downsizing of Hillcrest K-8 school. In the year that has passed, two schools have already been closed, one school was downsized, and two elementary schools were combined. Unfortunately, these schools will not be affected by the new decision. Nonetheless, the news of the decision reversal has spread, and people in communities across Oakland, especially those who would have been affected, are feeling extremely relieved and elated.
However, it’s important to acknowledge the fight for this resolution. When the plan to close the schools was first announced, the Oakland community was in an uproar. School closures disrupt families’ lives and make it harder for their children to receive a stable education. The plan also targeted schools with larger numbers of black and brown students. Out of seven schools to be closed, four of them had more than 30% black students. While board members, such as Sam Davis, claimed it was for financial reasons, the schools chosen didn’t seem like an accident. The school board hosted a public forum, and many people attending, including 70 children, spoke out against the school closures. However, the board wouldn’t listen.
Satya Zamudio, an Oakland Tech senior, was heavily involved with supporting the Oakland communities that would be affected by the school closures. Satya, as well as Georgia Wallace and Eden Goldstone, also Oakland Tech seniors, planned a meeting with Sam Davis in February of last year to attempt to get him to understand what the community wanted. They crafted a petition asking him to vote no on the school closure plan. The petition garnered almost a thousand signatures. However, the meeting did not go as planned. Sam Davis still voted yes on closing the schools, and the plan ended up passing.
But they didn’t give up. Satya says, “We thought it was important, as the biggest public high school in Oakland, that we show our support for other public schools and protest their closure.” Oakland Tech students, like Satya, Georgia, and Eden, helped with negotiations with the school boards and proposing alternative budget plans. They supported teacher strikes and stood in solidarity with the 18-day hunger strike of the Westlake Middle School teachers, one of the schools expected to merge.
To save Parker Elementary School, a school slated for closure, members of the Oakland community occupied the school, pledging to stay until OUSD promised to keep the school open. They turned it into a free resource for Oakland youth to learn music, garden, cook, and participate in workshops such as narcan training, poetry nights, and economy classes. The school was also influenced by the Black Panther Party’s educational programs, and Parker students were empowered to advocate for their community by speaking up in board meetings, engaging with elected representatives, and helping each other do the same. However, as Satya says, “We knew OUSD didn’t want us there, and so we constantly had to watch to make sure we weren’t being put in danger by them.” Despite this fear, Satya, as well as other Oakland Tech students such as Lola Aruda and Kaelyn Peña, continued to volunteer at Parker.
However, in August of 2022, the OUSD board sent an unlicensed security team to break up the Parker occupation. Needless force was used, and many people got severely hurt. People had concussions, bruises, and were bleeding. After this incident, the school ended up closing, but the occupation had helped support the community and had made an impact on the kids that attended.
The initial school closure decision and the resulting actions by the board, such as the violence at Parker, are a part of a larger pattern of OUSD acting against the interests of the community. This is apparent with the hiring of board member Josh Daniels, who had been reported by the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP to have demonstrated racist behavior. The board knew about this, but still hired him. He exacerbated problems with the school closures, hurting the community.
However, the board of OUSD has gained some new members now, many of whom were very involved with fighting for the community. While this is a victory, as well as the vote to reverse the decision, everything is not completely resolved. Since the decision was made without the fiscal impact analysis, board trustees are slightly wary of the financial impact. The fiscal impact analysis will be presented on January 25th, and with it will come new information to help the trustees decide on the budget for the future and how this decision will impact it.
This year has reminded us that activism and advocacy are essential and that there are always many ways to help. The reversal of the school closures decision is a good first step, and it should inspire us to go even further in our fight for equality, public education, and community.