On Tuesday a second “stay away” order was issued by the Oakland Unified School District to protesters currently occupying the Lakeview Elementary School property but a small group of people continued to camp on the school grounds overnight as well as hold classes and community speak outs there during the day.
“We reserve the right to remove protesters from the premises,” said OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint on Tuesday. “The occupation can’t continue indefinitely. We have no immediate plans to do so, but it’s a fluid situation and based on our assessments, which are being made by the hour. We could at some point decide to peaceably escort protesters off the premises.”
At this time, there are no significant health or safety concerns posed by the encampment at the school site, Flint said, but the fact that the protesters entered the building does presents some concerns about safety if the district decides to remove the protesters from the school site.
The order was delivered by OUSD security officers Tuesday morning, who attempted to serve individual people at the encampment. While on the site, officers inspected the premises and at one point stood side-by-side at the entrance of the school’s driveway in what protesters described as an attempt to intimidate parents who dropped their children off at the newly formed “People’s School for Public Education,” said Alima Catelacci, a former teacher at Lazear Elementary School. The People’s School is offering kids’ classes taught by volunteers inside the Lakeview building.
“This was the second day for the People’s School for Public Education and there were about 25 children at the site,” Catellacci said. “If Oakland will not provide a free education for its kids, we will. I think it’s really exciting that we are running a free school with teachers and parents and community members all participating. It’s practically unheard of in Oakland.”
The protest and resulting encampment at the site of Lakeview Elementary School began on June 15 after the OUSD officially closed it and four other schools in the district.
Teachers and parents received notice last October that Lazear, Lakeview, Santa Fe, Maxwell Park and Marshall Elementary Schools would close at the end of the spring semester in an effort to save money for the school district. Since receiving notice of the closings, there have been several demonstrations and appearances at school board meetings demanding that the OUSD school board take steps to keep the schools open.
In response to the school district’s stay away notice issued Tuesday, the protesters drafted an open letter to the district, which, among other things, demands that it re-open all five elementary schools and that Tony Smith resign from his position as superintendent.
“The board voted 5-2 in October to close these elementary schools,” Flint said. “These are democratically elected representatives who voted decisively to go in this direction because it’s for the best long term interest of the school district overall.”
Although OUSD believes the closings are in the best interest of the district, the teachers involved in the protest say this is a demonstration of a lack of concern for students and education overall. “We see this as one more step toward privatizing schools, privatizing public education,” said Julia Fernandez, a teacher at Castlemont High School who has been at the Lakeview encampment since the first day.
Angel Andrews was at the school in support of her niece, who was in the kindergarten class before the school closed. “If they close the schools and cut all the programs, where are our children supposed to go?” Andrews said.
According to Flint, one the reasons Lakeview was selected for closure was because of its declining enrollment and the high number of students enrolled at the school who actually live outside the district.
Pamela Chinn-Scoffern, a 25-year veteran of the school and a lead organizer at the encampment, said that decline in enrollment was caused by the loss of the early education program, which fed into the kindergarten program. When the children were told that the school was closing, Chinn-Scoffern’s held discussions about social justice in her first grade class. “When we got them to talk or draw and open up about their ideas it was amazing that many of the kids talked about safety in their neighborhoods. They feel safe here at Lakeview,” she said. She also stated that the high number of students enrolled from outside of the area is the result of an open enrollment program previously offered by the district.
In addition to the “People’s School” the protesters are hosting at Lakeview, the group decided Monday night to hold a speak-out every day at 5 p.m. that will be a forum for anyone to express him or herself. On Tuesday, there were comments from several teachers from campuses in the surrounding area and San Francisco, as well as from a handful of parents on site.
Participation in the protests and the speak-out fluctuate, Catellacci said. “A lot of the parents who bring over their kids leave after 3 p.m. because the parents work,” she said.
Becca Rozo-Marsh is a teacher in Richmond but she lives close to Lakeview Elementary. She spoke about her concerns that the police will come into the school in the in the early morning hours and dismantle the encampment. “We need as much community support as possible to show that people think that kids and families and teachers have a right to a school,” Rozo-Marsh said.
During the Tuesday night speak-out, members of the protesters’ steering committee announced plans for the march on Saturday beginning at noon starting at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza—the site of the Occupy Oakland protest—and ending at Lakeview Elementary.
As the crowd dispersed after the rally, the committee members moved from the street to an area closer to the encampment near the tents. The group began their meeting to discuss the day’s events as one person barbequed chicken and others went about offering side dishes and drinks.
By 7:45 p.m. only 17 people remained at the school. Eleven sat in a huddle at the top of the outdoor stairs leading to the school’s entrance discussing the role each will play in the future organization and management of the encampment. Two others cleared the dirt from the garden where the children were playing earlier in the day, another sat reading The Floodgates of Anarchy, while one person cleared away the leftovers from the dinner.
At around 8 p.m. Faviola Bravo arrived. She has a fourth grader who attended the school until it closed. She works during the day so she comes by on her way home to check in on how things are going. “I expected [my son] would graduate, but now he has to go to Burkhalter,” Bravo said. “He started here in pre-school. It really upset me. Why close the school? What about the education for the kids?”
So many parents gave up when they found out the school was going to close, Bravo said. She hopes Tony Smith and the board will reconsider and re-open the school. “I can have hope,” she said. “I haven’t lost hope yet.”