Parents, teachers, students and school employee unions are calling on the school board to “stop permanent school closures, mergers and charter school co-locations in Oakland,” which are going forward in the midst of the national and global economic shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at an online press conference on March 31, 2020, speakers urged the Board of Education to put a “pause” on these closures and other austerity measures, which are mandated by the district’s state and county overseers.
“While (we’re) sheltering in place, this call to stop the closures has become more urgent,” said Saru Jayaraman, a parent of children who attend Kaiser Elementary School, scheduled to close at the end of the school year.
With the district totally closed at present, officials are in effect saying, “We don’t know where your kids are going to go next year, and we don’t care,” said Jayaraman.
“I cannot emphasize enough the trauma to children and to parents, who are struggling to survive right now” she said.
Brookfield Elementary teacher Corrin Haskell said the district has approved co-locating a dual-immersion French language charter at his East Oakland school.
Besides giving Brookfield classrooms to Francophone Charter School in the fall, he said he and others worry that the district may close Brookfield and give the entire campus to the charter the following year.
Civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, a former school board member and attorney for the school district, said that besides facing the trauma of COVID-19, school children are being placed in a situation where they may never see their teachers again, where they may never see their classmates again.
“This is inhumane and unnecessary,” he said.
In addition, he said, the Supreme Court has held that parents “have an absolute right to direct their children’s education.”
“When you cannot attend school board meetings, when you cannot go to schools to check them out, when you cannot meet with fellow parents, teachers and administrators, a parent cannot play a meaningful role in directing his or her child’s education.”
Kaiser Elementary teacher Amelia Bailey said that in the middle of the traumatic pandemic shutdown, “I find it impossible for teachers to be able to participate in meaningful planning for a (new) school to be successfully ready to open (and) be actually ready to attract families in the fall of 2020.
Kaiser parent Stracey Gordon said, “The state and the city are putting a hold on evictions because of this global crisis,” she said. “Why can’t the Oakland Unified School District put a hold on evicting our children from their schools?”
Melvin Phillips, president of the school chapter of SEIU Local 1021, said, “Our schools are being starved of resources by charter programs and tax cuts (for) the rich.”
“All of us deserve to live in safe, healthy prosperous communities more than ever. And it starts with schools,” he said.
Said Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown, “This pandemic has shown everyone the importance of public schools (as a) vital hub in our community, that provides education … food … community (and) services for our students.
“With the district pursuing charter school co-locations and school closures, that’s against the model of full-service community schools, which our students need.”