Seven OUSD schools to close, one spared; board votes despite pleas from children
on February 9, 2022
After more than three hours of heartfelt pleadings from dozens of people, including more than 70 children, the Oakland school board voted 4-2-1 Tuesday night to close seven schools in the next two years.
The issue has pitted the community against the Oakland Unified School District board since it was announced in January that eight schools could close and 15 others could merge as a way to reduce the budget by $50 million. The backlash was swift, unified and emotional. More than 1,800 people signed in to the Zoom meeting and all of the 100 or so who addressed the board opposed the plan.
“You don’t feel our pain,” a student told the board. “You’re not students.”
Parents, students and teachers have rallied against the closures, which will disproportionately affect Black and brown children. Marches, protests and walkouts were held nearly every day in the week leading up to the vote. Two district staffers are on a hunger strike. Again and again, people asked the board to postpone the decision. But the board proceeded.
Tensions were high among board members throughout the meeting, which went on for more nearly eight hours, ending after midnight. Director Mike Hutchinson called it “disingenuous” to take public comment before any amendments to the plan were introduced. And he pointed out that the Zoom forum kept many families without access to the internet from participating. In fact, several students tried to address the board but couldn’t because they weren’t using an up-to-date Zoom application. A quarrel erupted among board members about an hour into the public comment period when director VanCedric Williams made a motion, which later passed, to give students another 30 minutes to speak.
“This is an emergency,” he argued. This is about their community, their schools.”
After about three and a half hours, 226 more people were still queued up to speak when the board ended the public comment period.
Director Aimee Eng proposed an amendment with support from Vice President Sam Davis to remove Prescott Elementary from the closure list and postpone the closures of Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary and Grass Valley Elementary for a year. Eng proposed canceling the mergers, except for RISE Community School and New Highland Academy; and a later amendment by Clifford Thompson tried but failed to restore the merger of Ralph J. Bunche Continuation High with Dewey Academy.
Eng’s amendment became the final resolution, with Hutchinson and Williams voting against it and Thompson abstaining.
Community Day School and Parker K-8 will close at the end of this school year. Horace Mann Elementary and Fred Korematsu Discovery Academy will close at the end of the 2022-23 school year. La Escuelita and Hillcrest, both K-8 schools, will lose middle-school grades.
Gonzales called Eng’s proposal on which schools to close or save arbitrary, though she said closures are warranted because of declining enrollment. “Failing to do this is just going to mean that the next board is going to be back here next year,” she said.
She and Hutchinson questioned why Eng and Davis would spare Prescott, one of the smallest schools, over others.
Davis said he didn’t think other elementary schools in West Oakland had the capacity to absorb Prescott students.
He proposed an amendment that the board passed, with Hutchinson and Williams dissenting, that would use money gained in the school closures to benefit schools that will be welcoming new students.
The decision came about after the Alameda County Board of Education, which oversees the district’s finances, instructed the board to severely cut its budget months after board members had decided against closing schools. Lisa Grant-Dawson, the district’s senior business officer, said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that the reductions would enable the district to gain financial stability and control its debt in about three years.
The County Education Board, however, passed a resolution Tuesday decrying the way the OUSD board went about the closures, saying the district should have engaged families for a whole school year and should have conducted an equity impact analysis.
Families showed up Tuesday to make their voices heard, and hundreds of people still had their hands raised when the meeting adjourned around 12:55 a.m.. Dozens of students, from kindergarteners to high school seniors, called into the Zoom meeting, where the first 90 minutes were reserved for student comments.
Julius Goodman, a Hillcrest fourth grader, started a petition online that garnered more than 500 signatures to keep the middle school open. “That shows proof that people don’t want the schools to be closed,” he told the board.
A kindergartener named Hazel said, “A new school means I’ll have to start all over, and that will be scary.”
A high school student called it “offensive” that the decision to close the schools would be handed down during Black History Month.
Hutchinson, who campaigned on a promise to keep schools from closing, was visibly angered by the vote and predicted it would trigger a “war” with the community and lawsuits against the district.
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