Oakland students and teachers turn out for March 4 pickets; “disaster drills”
on March 4, 2010
Students, teachers, and concerned neighborhood residents lined Broadway in front of Oakland Technical High School to protest the state cuts to public education. As early as 7:45 am, participants in the statewide March 4 Day of Action to Defend Public Education were holding signs outside of Tech, sometimes bouncing them up and down to make sure passing drivers noticed. The regular honking and the occasional “peace” fingers held out car windows indicated they were being seen.
“See, you have the people’s support,” local resident Nancy Delaney said. “Now what about the damn administration?”
Physics teacher Richard Fairly, who has been at Tech for sixteen years, said he had come out on this chilly morning “to decry the cuts to education and also to support a strong contract for Oakland’s teachers.”
“There will be a number of positions that will have to be cut at Tech and some services,” Fairly said. “I know the principal is trying to keep as much of the current program as possible,” he added, noting that Tech principal Sheliagh Andujar was a strong supporter of the teachers.
Andujar was out in front of the school as well, chatting with teachers and leaning into car windows to give parents flyers about the district’s planned events for today. The “day of action” was originally called for by the California Coordinating Committee, a loose statewide network of students, teachers and concerned citizens, and has taken off across the state with unions and school districts planning events to protest budget cuts in their cities and towns.
According to Vernon Hal, the Oakland Unified School District’s chief financial officer, next school year the district will face a budget shortfall of $85 million due to loss of funding from state cuts, declining enrollment and the exhaustion of last year’s federal stimulus money. This will mean cuts to both district staff and school staff, Hal said yesterday.
To protest the cuts coming down from the state, schools across Oakland held informational pickets before school this morning and then participated in a 9:15 am “disaster drill” to signify the significant hazards facing public education funding. Students and teachers exited their school buildings carrying signs and voicing chants like “SOS, Save Our Schools!”
That was the chant at Piedmont Elementary this morning. All 350 Piedmont students filed out of their classrooms and into the schoolyard as the school’s fire alarms rang in short, staccato bursts. Ranging from kindergartners to fifth graders, students stayed in single-file lines, holding printed signs that read “Support Oakland teachers” and “We care about our future.”
“Thank you for coming out of the building!” Piedmont Elementary principal Zarina Ahmad said through a bullhorn. “In the tradition of speaking up for our rights, in the tradition of protesting when things are unfair and unjust, we are having a day of education.”
Led by their teachers — many clad in neon-green Oakland Education Association t-shirts — the students then marched out of the schoolyard and around the front of the building, past a giant sign reading “No more cuts to public education,” before returning to the school through the main entrance. In addition to the “Save our schools!” chant, students blew whistles and shook tambourines and maracas. Most cars that passed by honked in support.
In her office after the drill, Ahmad said she hoped her students took away two lessons from the day’s activities. “The first is that it’s their right to speak up for what they believe in,” she said. “And I want them to know they did something about it. They got involved. They got their parents involved. They lifted their voices to say our schools need help.”
At Oakland’s Claremont Middle School, Ellie Hill, age 11, was at school early to hand out flyers and was toting a bright green sign that read, “NO CUTS” during her school’s “disaster drill.”
“I think it’s unfair for them to take our education from us,” Ellie said. “I went to a [private] school in the Berkeley Hills called Cragmont in kindergarten through third grade and we had all our materials set on our desk—we had a pencil set on our desk. We wouldn’t have to ask for one. Now, when we get here, we have to buy our pencils because they can’t provide us pencils because they are cutting down and taking our money.”
Her school’s principal, Kenya Crockett, said she felt the same way. “Schools have been cut to the bare minimum. With further cuts, I don’t know how we will prepare students to be citizens in the 21st century,” she said.
All 410 of Claremont’s students participated in the drill this morning. Students filed out in lines behind their teachers, some toting bright yellow emergency kits just as they would for a non-symbolic fire drill. Some kids chatted with their friends or stared into space, but many others held signs over their heads and yelled, “no cuts!”
Crockett said that the school had taken the day of protest as a “teachable moment” and had used some of the lesson plans provided by OUSD to give students “examples of protest, the power of protest and how protest results in change.” The school will also host an assembly addressing these issues this afternoon.
Back at Oakland Tech earlier this morning, students were gearing up for a full day of protesting. Some even said they planned to leave school at lunchtime to join the protesters from UC Berkeley and other Oakland locations in the march to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza for an afternoon rally. The Oakland Unified School District has announced that students leaving school today will be listed as having an unexcused absence, but that wasn’t deterring students who planned to attend the rally.
Ninth grader Jamal Johnson, who said he loves math, said he was going downtown “to protest with all the other schools and colleges.” Jamal said he was aware of the consequences, but, he said, “I come to school every day on time, so, I feel like I can do this one time.”
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