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Reparations task force gets to work closing gaps for Black students in Oakland schools

on October 16, 2021

Black mothers are leading calls for change and reparations in the Oakland Unified School District. 

Pecolia Manigo Awobodu, a mother of three in Oakland public schools, said she’s watched her children experience disparities when trying to access resources at school. And she’s heard countless similar stories from other Black mothers in the district. 

“I have experienced the pain and the joy of raising Black children in Oakland schools,” said Manigo Awobodu. “I am grounded in that experience in real ways.”

Manigo Awobodu is the executive director of Bay Area PLAN, a parent-led organization working to improve schools, and the newly elected chair of the Black Students and Families Thriving Task Force, which was formed after the school board passed the Reparations for Black Students resolution in March 2020. 

The task force met for the first time on Sept. 30 and will develop a plan to eliminate opportunity gaps for Black students and monitor the school district’s implementation of the plans. It will present the plan to the school board in January. 

It is coming up with ways to measure the academic and emotional success of Black students. It will be holding sessions with the public this fall.

“OUSD as a system is embracing this opportunity,” said Dexter Moore Jr., vice chair of the task force. “We’re trying to recognize the way the system has not done right by our Black students.” 

Educators on the task force like Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, who is on the Oakland Education Association board, want to address the retention and recruitment of Black teachers as a key element of educational reparations. Of 2,357 teachers in the district, only 469 are Black, and the turnover rate for Black teachers is about 20% per year. Studies show that Black students who have just one Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate and more likely to enroll in college.  

Taiz-Rancifer also wants the task force to look at ways to create an environment where Black educators and administrators won’t fear retaliation when they bring up concerns of discrimination. In December, a former McClymonds High School Assistant Principal Cleveland Mckinney sued the district for alleged discrimination and retaliation. 

“While this resolution is targeting Black students, it’s really a way to start having real education justice,” said Taiz-Rancifer. “We’re unpacking systemic racism for all our students, where 90% of our kids are people of color.” 

Community organizations, parents and students have long condemned the district’s practices as creating gaps for Black students. The Justice for Oakland Students Coalition held listening sessions for students, families and educators in 2018 to identify areas of concern, and their findings are what led to the reparations resolution. 

A lawsuit filed on behalf of students in school districts across California in 2017 accused the state of violating the civil rights of students in predominantly Black elementary schools. The lawsuit was settled in 2020. The California Department of Education then identified a dozen predominantly Black schools in OUSD with students who had not achieved literacy standards. 

Although Black students represent just 22% of 35,565 OUSD students, they represent 57% of all suspended and disciplined students and 33% of students in special education. 

Manigo Awobodu is concerned that 16 predominantly Black schools in Oakland have been closed in the past 20 years. The resolution initially included a requirement that schools with Black populations of 30% or more be protected from closures. The school board rejected that requirement.  

A number of other school districts have recently adopted measures for Black students’ success, including West Contra Costa Unified School District, which devoted nearly $6 million for programs to increase graduation rates and hire more Black teachers. 

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Pecolia Manigo Awobodu’s name.


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