OUSD teachers get support for strike: “This is what community looks like!”
on April 30, 2022
What started as a one-day teachers strike against school closures turned into a “Day of Action” Friday, as the community joined educators on a march from the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to Oakland City Hall, on foot, bikes, rollerblades and in strollers.
Students held picket signs high and chanted: “This is what democracy looks like! This is what community looks like!”
Many parents brought their children, using the strike as a teaching lesson in activism, social justice and the right to protest.
“We want him to understand what’s going on and why he’s not in school today,” said Jessica Hallett, parent of a 5-year-old who goes to Piedmont Avenue Elementary School.
The Oakland Education Association agreed to hold a single-day strike in response to the school board’s decision in February to close seven schools in the next two years, merge two others and eliminate middle school grades in two more.
The association said it entered into an agreement with the district in 2019 in which OUSD agreed to work closely with the community when making decisions about school closures. But OUSD hasn’t honored that agreement, the union said.
The district claimed Friday’s strike violated the teachers contract. It tried to keep the strike from happening by seeking an injunction from the Public Employees Relations Board, claiming the strike constituted an unfair labor practice. But PERB denied the request Thursday.
The Day of Action began at 6:30 a.m. when students, teachers, staff and community members picketed at individual schools before meeting at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater for a “Save Our Schools” block party.
Bay Area Classics played along with the beats of drums and the long blows of wind instruments. Several community organizations were present including: Black Student Reparations, Oakland Rising, and SLAP — Schools and Labor Against Privatization — showing solidarity with staff and students affected by school closures and advocating for safe and racially just schools.
Teachers said their students are devastated by the decision. And many teachers are looking for new jobs.
“We’ve gone through so many emotional changes,” said Gail Wooley, a Parker K-8 teacher. “First, it’s like how? Why ? And then you just get into a depression that you can’t really tell yourself you’re in because you have to keep moving.”
The crowd gathered at City Hall to hear from close to a dozen speakers including parents, Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and students.
Speakers expressed concern that school closures would increase travel time for students and make them more vulnerable to predators and gun violence. Advocacy groups urged the crowd to vote for new school board members. And students and parents spoke about what school closures would look like for them.
“I’m standing up for every student,” said Isaac Murillo, an eighth grader at La Escuelita, which will lose its middle school grades. Isaac said he was a shy kid who had a hard time expressing his opinion.
“So now I want to represent those kids that are so shy, and I want to teach them that a shy kid can also be a powerful kid,” he said.
Speakers called for more protests. And those fighting the plan got a boost from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which filed a complaint on April 11 with the California Justice Department, calling the closure plan “racially discriminatory” because it disproportionately affects Black students. The ACLU has asked the attorney general to investigate, alleging the plan “violates Black students’ fundamental right to equal educational opportunity under the California Constitution and discriminates based on race.”
The organization wants the plan halted and the district ordered to conduct an equity analysis to guide any future closure decisions.
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