OUSD board refuses to postpone school closings, prompting more to join hunger strike
on February 18, 2022
Even after students threatened to join a hunger strike and community members promised backlash, the Oakland Unified School District board voted to proceed with the plan to close seven schools during an emergency meeting Friday night.
“This isn’t going to stop anything, this is the start of it,” said school director Mike Hutchinson, after a motion to postpone the closures for one year failed. “I warned you.”
Under the plan, Community Day School and Parker K-8 will close at the end of this school year, and La Escuelita will shrink from a K-8 school to only an elementary school. Rise Community Elementary and New Highland Academy, which currently share a campus in East Oakland, will merge.
At the end of the 2022-23 school year, Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy will close, and Hillcrest K-8 will lose middle school grades.
The vote was 3-2-1, with directors Clifford Thompson, Aimee Eng and Gary Yee voting not to postpone. Sam Davis, who voted for the closures last week, abstained. And VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson voted in favor of postponing. Shanthi Gonzales was absent.
The community hasn’t had much time to digest the closures, which were proposed in January and voted on last week as a way to reduce the budget and capture a $10 million incentive offered by the state to OUSD and other districts paying off emergency state loans.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the meeting on Zoom, with several speakers asking the board to step down and urging others to recall them.
Westlake Middle School staffers Andre San-Chez and Moses Omolade were on the 18th day of a hunger strike when they addressed the board at the start of the meeting. San-Chez said that if the board went ahead with the closures, protesters will chain themselves to the buildings, hold teach-ins and expand the hunger strike. He invited others to defend the schools with their bodies.
Six people at the meeting said they would join the hunger strike — three were students, two were teachers and one was a parent. “You have just unleashed an army of folks willing to hunger strike,” one speaker said.
Davis said he was disturbed to hear people promising to start hunger strikes, saying it was “impossible to have an authentic discussion when we hear people saying they are going to harm themselves.”
Eng acknowledged the hunger strikers and their passion, but said the district is in a budget crisis — a point Williams and Hutchinson contested. That and declining enrollment, Eng said, make operating more schools than the district needs unsustainable.
Echoing the sentiments of the more than 100 people who addressed the board Friday and when it voted for the closures on Feb. 8, Williams urged the directors to take more time with the decision.
“There’s no hurry for us to do this,” he said.
“It’s creating damage that will last for generations.”
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