Parents Ask: ‘Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?’

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Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots In­ternational Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the dis­trict so far has not ventured to say how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district an­swer why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 char­ter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies from the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, in­dicate that school districts save no money and that long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of displaced students and those who attend the re­ceiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board?

School district officials say they have to move ahead quick­ly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokes­man John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administra­tion seems to have decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommen­dation. Supt. Kyla Johnson- Trammell met with the Roots community the week before the holiday break to notify teachers and parents about the closure.

The district has already started counseling students and parents about the need to enroll now in new schools for next year.

And Coliseum College Prep Academy CPA, the more favored school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra class­room space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expan­sion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the commu­nity,” according to a CCPA newsletter. CCPA administra­tion told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

As of Thursday, pressure from the school community forced the meeting to be can­celled.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision?” asked Syl­via Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any an­swers,” she said. “Who are re­ally the key players here? It ap­pears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications re­lated to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communica­tions and reports by district of­ficials, the PRA request said, “The documents should in­clude exchanges with the Fis­cal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-ap­pointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and state legislators and representatives of GO Pub­lic School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School As­sociation.”

Asking why the district ob­jects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school com­munity, Sasaki answered that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elm­hurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Ur­ban Promise Academy – would not disrupt the educational sta­bility of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is looking at are aimed at mak­ing the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still does not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still work­ing to determine what the sav­ings will be with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

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