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Protest signs in front of Parker Elementary School in Oakland, CA

Community to OUSD: ‘You have the opportunity … stop this whole madness’

on June 24, 2022

Chanting “Whose schools? Our schools,” parents, teachers and community members erupted into protest at Wednesday’s Oakland Unified School District Board of Education meeting, prompting the board to recess the meeting and move it online.

Protesters approached the dais with signs that read, “Hands off our schools” and “No school closures” after the board failed to act on their proposed resolution to rescind the closures of seven schools, including Parker K-8 and Community Day, which closed at the end of this school year. A motion by Director Mike Hutchinson to place the resolution on next Wednesday’s agenda failed on a 3-2 vote, with President Gary Yee among those dissenting. But later in the meeting, Yee said he would put the resolution on the agenda “at the earliest possible time.” 

The public comment period lasted more than an hour, with community members — many of them elementary-school children — pleading with the board to reopen Parker and to stop the closures of six other schools that either have closed or will be closed in the next year. 

“You have the opportunity to not just postpone but to stop this whole madness, and not balance any fiscal mistakes that have been made up top on the backs of our kids,” said Autumn, a teacher at Esperanza Elementary School. “And the money is there, so there isn’t even a fiscal mistake. You have the opportunity, so take it.”

Parker Pride painted on wall of Parker Elementary School Cafeteria
Occupied Parker K-8 (Callie Rhoades)

Hutchinson, who has been against the school closures since a majority of the board approved them on Feb. 8, put forward a separate resolution that came to a vote later in the evening to delay the closures for one year. The resolution failed in a 4-2 vote, with Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams voting yes. It is the second time since February the resolution failed to pass.

In voting against Hutchinson’s motion, Director Aimee Eng said it was time to prioritize the transition for students and teachers reassigned to new schools. 

But the Parker community has united in fighting that plan. Parents and others have been occupying the campus in protest of the school’s closure since May 26. After months of protests, rallies and hunger strikes against the closure, parents and community members took over the school and have refused to leave.

“We’ve been asking for the same thing since February,” Rochelle Jenkins, a Parker parent organizer, said in an interview at the school. “They have ignored us. They have pushed us to the side. They have been disrespectful in not listening to the voices of any of the parents or the community.”

Jenkins said the group also wants to maintain the building as a resource for the community. The occupiers have been providing students with classes, games, physical education, community building activities and food. 

“Y’all can’t get mad at us or act like we are committing some big crime because we want to continue to educate the children in our neighborhood and give them something that is owed to them,” Jenkins said, about OUSD’s reaction to the occupation. 

Parker Parent, Rochelle Jenkins, standing in the hallway of Parker Elementary School

‘We are going to continue to fight for our kids’ education’: Rochelle Jenkins

Until their demands to reopen schools, stop impending school closures and consolidation, and receive OUSD support for communities affected by the closures are met, occupiers say they will remain at the school. 

“We’ve already did it the other way,” Jenkins said. “You know, we came to the board meetings, we told them how we felt. So now we are occupying the school and that’s that. It is either comply or we’re going to be here.”

Parker K-8, originally the Parker School, has been part of the East Oakland community since 1948. Before its May 25 closure, it served around 300, predominantly Black and Latino, students from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

The occupation

While the Parker closure has rocked the community, it is not the first of its kind. In 2012, Oakland families took part in a similar sit-in of Lakeview Elementary after the school board voted to close it and four other elementary schools. The sit-in lasted for more than two weeks before Lakeview eventually closed for good. 

Tents in front of Parker Elementary School in Oakland, CA
Community members camp out on Parker K-8 campus. (Callie Rhoades)

Jenkins said that she and fellow Parker sit-in leader Azlinah Tambu were inspired by the Lakeview sit-in. 

“She called me and was like, ‘We need to do what Lakeview did and stage a sit-in,’” Jenkins said. “So I was like, ‘Yeah. You know what? That’s what we’re doing.’” 

Jenkins said no matter the outcome of the Parker occupation, she and the others will continue to fight for their communities.

“Even if they say, ‘No y’all are not ever going to be able to be at the school again,’ we are going to walk out on top with that,” she said. “And we are going to continue to fight for our kids’ education and our community.” 

‘It’s not going to be the same’: For one family, life will get harder when Parker school closes

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