Oakland parents join teachers in day-long strike over school closings
(OAKLAND, Calif.) — A teachers’ union went on a day-long strike in Oakland, Calif., on Friday to protest what they say are unfair labor practices over school closings in the Unified School District. from Oakland.
The school district attributes low school attendance and financial hardship to its decision to close several schools in the city. The Oakland Education Association says OUSD’s decision violates a 2019 agreement from a previous teachers’ strike to give ample notice before closures and allow time for community impact assessments.
Parents and students who will be affected by the closures joined teachers on picket lines around the city’s public schools before gathering at a block party rally to voice concerns about the disproportionate impact of closures on minority students.
The school district told ABC News in a statement Friday that most students stayed home during the strike.
“While most students in the district stayed home today with excused absences, some came to school. Our focus at this time is to ensure they have a positive experience on campus,” the statement read.
Earlier this week, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell condemned the protest plans in a letter to OEA union teachers. Johnson-Trammell said the strike will cause further damage to the district’s already stretched budget.
“Most importantly, the impact on students would be significant. In light of lost instruction due to the pandemic, the OAS and OUSD have worked hard together to ensure in-person instruction is the norm for this school year. Even the threat of further deprivation of instruction from students, let alone actual deprivation, especially without legal justification, will only further harm students. It should also be noted that a one-day strike would hurt the district financially,” Johnson-Trammell said in the letter.
The district says no such agreement on school closures exists, as the union claims.
“As for the assertion that the district previously negotiated the issue of school consolidations as part of negotiations to end the February 2019 strike, it is patently false: the list of negotiated items, as defined in investigation report, leading to the 2019 strike does not include school consolidations,” Johnson-Trammell said in the letter.
Jennifer Brouhard, a teacher at La Escuelita Elementary School, criticized the superintendent’s criticism that the strike will hurt the school district.
“When I hear the superintendent say this strike hurts the students, it hurts those students to be expelled from their school,” Brouhard told ABC News. “It hurts these students to be sent to another school for a year or two. It hurts the fifth graders who have all filled out their application to go to La Escuelita, only to be notified after the registration period ends that the school is closing. When I got this letter from the superintendent, I wanted to say ‘no, you’re talking to these kids about who’s hurt and who hurt them.’
Brouhard said she thinks students in low-income areas of the school district have been ignored.
“I don’t think the district values black and brown families. I don’t think they appreciate these communities. This isn’t the first time school closures have happened in the same kind of community…You have to look at the cost of the community and I think if you’re just moving these kids around, that really means they don’t matter,” Brohard said.
“I think the feeling is that people in those communities won’t fight back, but the district has encountered a lot of resistance this time around,” she added.
Teachers and parents who participated in the protest told ABC News that the closures will pose a safety concern for some young, low-income students who may have to travel long distances to get to school.
Corin Haskell, a science teacher at Brookfield Elementary, said the school’s closure, which is expected to take place next year, will disrupt the surrounding community.
“This community is really tight-knit. Brookfield School is truly a generational school. I have been teaching for over 25 years. I have been teaching the children of my first students since I arrived there. This school has been a strong point in the community for a long time,” Haskell told ABC News. “I’m not worried about having a job. I know I can teach anywhere. It’s about this work that we’ve done in this community for so long in this school and the fact that it’s been around for generations. They’ll just wipe it off.
On April 11, the ACLU filed a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office calling for an investigation into the closures.
“Oakland Unified School District has a long history of discrimination against Black students and families who have borne the brunt of previous school closures,” Linnea Nelson, senior counsel for the ACLU of California’s Racial and Economic Justice Program of North, said in a statement. “By chronically underfunding and mismanaging small schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, the district has created the very conditions it now cites to justify the disruption of tight-knit school communities and the displacement of hundreds of students. black.”
The school district told ABC News in response to the ACLU’s accusation that decisions to consolidate schools are “difficult, but may be necessary.”
“The State of California has identified school consolidations as an area the district needs to focus on to improve its long-term fiscal health,” OUSD said. “Alameda County recently noted that the district’s improved financial situation is partly the result of school consolidations. The schools to consolidate were selected based on a number of factors, including but not limited to low enrollment. OUSD is investing some of its newly available funding to better support students, prioritizing Black students in many areas. The District has been, and continues to be, focused on addressing the inequities that exist in student achievement, and must make ongoing funding adjustments to do so.
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