During Wednesday night’s Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education meeting, the CFO presented a new web tool which would make the district’s annual budget more accessible to the public, special education staffers explained a service plan that’s being implemented in stages over the next three years, and the district’s civic engagement coordinator delivered an explanation of a proposed ethnic studies curriculum.
Ruth Alahydoian, the district’s CFO, presented a beta version of additions to the OUSD website. The enhancements, which Superintendent Antwan Wilson said should be online by the end of the year, are being launched by the district to make its budget more publicly accessible. A financial transparency tab will be added to the website, along with a tool that will allow members of the public to view budget information for specific schools or departments within the district. Student Director Darius Aikens asked how the language in the report could be made more accessible to parents. Director Shanthi Gonzales (District 6), also mentioned that she would like to see year-by-year comparisons presented in the data. “Snapshot data is helpful, but it doesn’t tell a story,” said Gonzales.
Following her presentation, an action plan for the Programs for Exceptional Children, or the district’s special education program, was presented by the program’s deputy chief Sheilagh Andujar and Dr. Devin Dillon, chief academic officer for the district.
Special education staffers described the plan, which will be implemented in stages, as including three levels, designed to assist students with different needs. Students with mild to moderate disabilities will be included in general education classrooms “in the least restrictive environment” possible, according to the plan, while students with more severe disabilities will remain in more restrictive environments and be given additional resources.
In phase one, which is currently underway, an “inclusion task force” meets and the district hosts community engagement events. Phase two will be introduced in January, 2016. During this phase, the task force will develop criteria so the district can identify ten schools to run the program in the 2016-2017 school year. District-wide professional development training on inclusion practices will also begin. Phase three will go from March to August of 2016. During this phase, the district will develop specific site plans for the schools where the inclusion model will be put in place in the next school year.
“Inclusion is not new in Oakland. It’s happening,” said Dillon. Inclusion programs, according to Dillon, have already been in place and are currently benefiting students. The new goal is “how to make it even stronger.”
Members of local activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) attended Wednesday night’s board meeting, objecting to the proposed inclusion policies. They voiced concerns that helpful programs would no longer be offered, and said that the district does not have enough staff to successfully carry out the plan.
Some members of the public expressed concern that BAMN has driven the narrative of recent school board meetings. “They are bullying, name-calling, and providing misinformation about what’s going on in Oakland” said Mirella Rangel, who identified herself as a parent and employee of GO Public Schools, a nonprofit coalition that focuses on education policy in Oakland. At one point, an argument erupted among BAMN activists and some members of the public about how to carry out the commenting process, leading the board to take a ten-minute hiatus until public comments could recommence.
The board also listened to a presentation about a proposed ethnic studies policy, which will be officially voted on at the board meeting on October 28. The policy would, in three years, incorporate ethnic studies courses into the curriculum of all OUSD high schools. The course curriculum has not yet been determined, and a group of 17 teachers has been meeting since September to develop a curriculum that centers on a common understanding of how the district will define “ethnic studies.”
“Trees like humans need healthy roots in order to grow strong,” said Young Whan Choi, the civic engagement coordinator for OUSD. “The interdependence of the root systems” is “a beautiful metaphor for what ethnic studies is about.”
Some board directors voiced concern about who will teach the courses and whether they would be a graduation requirement. Wilson said that when done correctly, ethnic studies courses could be taught and used to fulfill current history requirements rather than become an addition to the graduation requirements.
“We’ve got to have people that are willing to deal [with] and address privilege, a culture of whiteness,” said Director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, District 3, who attended the meeting via teleconference. “It’s going to be uncomfortable and hard work.”
Also at the board meeting, the month of October was declared Principal’s Month, and the board held a public hearing about the textbooks and instructional materials used by the district.