Two groups protest at OUSD board meeting, which is eventually cancelled
on March 29, 2012
In an emotional, chaotic meeting that had numerous contentious items on the agenda, the Oakland school board postponed most of its agenda until the next day after the meeting was interrupted by a group chanting and blocking the entrance to the board members’ desks.
A group called the “The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary,” or BAMN, for short, began chanting, “Keep our schools open, rescind the vote” shortly before 10 pm, when board members were returning to their desks for a recess five hours into the meeting. There were more than a dozen protesters , most wearing red shirts with “BAMN” on the front and holding signs that read “Keep All Schools Open” and “No Second-Class Treatment for Black and Brown in Oakland” as they demanded the board reverse its decision to close five elementary schools.
“Nothing works to keep the schools open unless you occupy or sit in, whatever you want to call it,” UC Berkeley student Matt Williams, one of the BAMN activists, said after the board members left the chambers.
Board members took a one-hour recess when chanting interrupted the meeting shortly before 10 pm. When they returned after 11 pm, the chanting started up again—“Our kids are not for sale” and “No more closing, no more lies, save our schools, occupy!” Board members tried to take roll, and when it was clear they wouldn’t be able to hear each other, president Jody London (District 1) said the meeting will be discontinued until Thursday at 1 pm.
Before the protest disrupted the meeting, the board was able to make a decision—sort of—on one of the controversial items on the agenda.
In an unexpected, unanimous decision, the board voted to table a decision on the charter status of Lazear Elementary after school leaders and district staff agreed to negotiate a “partnership” agreement for the school. The two sides will now try to work out a deal similar to the unprecedented decisions made last month on elementary schools Learning Without Limits and ASCEND. Those schools will convert from district schools to charter schools while retaining a close relationship with the district, continuing to pay for many services, and contributing to paying off the district’s annual $6 million debt from the 2003 state bailout.
A similar deal could be in the future for Lazear, one of the five schools the board voted to close in October. After spending nearly three hours debating the school’s charter application and hearing from impassioned public speakers, the board voted to let OUSD general counsel Jacqueline Minor negotiate the details with the school’s proposed charter management company, Education For Change. After the board’s vote, Minor told Lazear supporters, “You should be celebrating.”
Hae-Sin Thomas, the CEO for Education For Change, agreed that it was indeed time to celebrate. “It feels like an approval,” Thomas said in an interview after the board’s vote.
However, the disruption of the meeting tabled the remainder of the agenda, which included items on the district’s facilities that appeared to be a part of a domino effect after the Lazear decision. Board members were also scheduled to vote on using the Lazear campus for two other charter schools, Bay Area Technology School and Community School for Creative Education. It was unclear how the decision to negotiate a charter agreement with Lazear affected the future of the school. If the school becomes a charter, it’s not required to stay at that particular campus.
Board members were also scheduled to vote on using the facilities for the closed Edward Shands Adult School for Arise High School, and whether to lease Santa Fe Elementary, another one of the five schools scheduled to close after this school year, to the Emeryville School District for three years for $500,000 annually.
But before the board could begin to even debate those issues, the BAMN occupation began.
Williams said the group wants to save the closing schools, and wanted to disrupt the vote on Santa Fe as well. He said the group waited till after the Lazear decision to begin the protest “to avoid inconveniencing people.” Still, he said, “You’ve got to step on some toes if you want to get something done.”
The meeting had a contested feel to it even before it began. A half hour before the 5 pm meeting began, a group of teachers from the Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union, held a protest on the steps outside the school board building.
The OEA protest centered around their opposition to a decision by Superintendent Tony Smith to create new “Acceleration Teacher on Special Assignment” (or TSA) positions on the Fremont, Castlemont and McClymonds high school campuses. Those campuses, which currently house small schools, are being consolidated, and the school year is being extended one month. The usion opposes the TSA position because they say teachers are having to reapply to work at schools where they are already employed, and the position violates their contracts with the district.
Rodney Brown, a teacher at Castlemont Business and Information Technology School, said teachers at his school were “demoralized” and “hurt” by the decision of Smith to create the TSA position. “I’m being asked to apply for a position that doesn’t exist,” he said during the pre-meeting rally. “It’s unprecedented. I can’t apply for my current position because it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Eight hours after the OEA protest began in front of the school board office, and the OUSD board members had left the building, a group of 16 BAMN members remained in the chambers, discussing whether they should camp out in the meeting room or return the next day for the 1 pm meeting.
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