The Oakland Unified School District board reconvened Thursday afternoon after Wednesday night’s meeting was adjourned early thanks to chanting protesters who drowned out the board members’ discussion. Nine people were arrested later that night when they refused to leave the chambers as they protested the shutdown of five elementary schools.
To the displeasure of most of the crowd of about 30 people present on Thursday, board voted to lease Santa Fe Elementary School, one of five schools scheduled to close after this school year, to the Emeryville School District for three years at $500,000 a year. The board voted 4-0, with Alice Spearman (District 7) abstaining, and members Jumoke Hinton-Hodge (District ) and Noel Gallo (District ) absent. When the voting concluded, many in the audience booed and someone shouted, “Shame on you.” The board also voted Wednesday to use the facilities for the closed Edward Shands Adult School for Arise High School, a charter school.
Those items were scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting before it was interrupted by chanting protesters at 10 pm from a group opposed to the school closures that is calling itself The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary [BAMN]. Board President Jody London called a one-hour recess when the meeting was first interrupted. When board members returned to the meeting at 11:30 pm, the protesters started chanting again and the meeting was adjourned for the night.
A group of about 10 protesters remained in the chambers and about an hour later, at 12:30 am, were asked to leave by police because, according to district spokesperson Troy Flint, “they were no longer entitled to be on the facility. It was after hours and school business was not being conducted.” When some protesters remained, they were arrested under statute 626.7A of the California penal code, or, Flint said, “being on school property when business is not being conducted and been asked to leave.” None of the protesters resisted arrest, Flint said.
At least one of the BAMN protesters arrested Wednesday, Monica Smith, was present at Thursday’s meeting. Smith said in an interview the group had blankets and were “determined to stay here for days” before they were arrested. Smith said she was handcuffed and taken to North County jail where she was released at on Thursday morning.
Smith said the group is gaining support from parents who want to “keep their school open by any means necessary.”
“We’re ready to keep going,” Smith said. “We’re planning on winning.”
The audience for the rescheduled Thursday afternoon meeting was much smaller than on Wednesday, but similarly enraged about school closures. Parents and teachers lined up to criticize the board and Superintendent Tony Smith for the decision to lease the school to Emeryville, with Spearman bringing up that the school was the only elementary school for Oakland kids in the 94608 zip code. “Is this right for children in Oakland to lease this and get $1.5 million?” Spearman asked Smith.
Speakers also criticized the board for its decision to lease the school to Emeryville, for cancelling the meeting last night and then going through the remainder of the agenda in the middle of the next day, when many people are at work.
“The whole dishonesty of this plan, to try to do this behind our backs, and claim it’s about money when it’s really about shutting down the expectations for a better future for the youth of Oakland,” Tania Kappner, an Oakland Tech history teacher and BAMN leader told the board, “and just relegate them to second class treatment and jobs? No.”
The board had also been scheduled to vote on the fate of the Lazear Elementary School building, which would have been turned over to two charter schools—Bay Area Technology School and the Community School for Creative Education—if the board approved. But after the board unexpectedly voted to negotiate a “partnership” charter agreement with officials from Lazear at Wednesday night’s meeting, a decision on what to do with the building was tabled for a later time.
It momentarily appeared the chaos of the previous night had carried over when the power went out in the building about a half hour into the Thursday afternoon meeting, and London chose to proceed with the lights out. Oakland resident Etha Jones was standing at the speakers’ podium, ready to criticize the board for closing schools, when the room went dark. Six police officers moved to line up on the steps near the entrance to the building as the crowd murmured.
“That’s God speaking,” Jones said to the board in the darkness. “God does not like ugly.”