Faith Leaders Offer Plea to Oakland School District to Stop School Closures

NBC 5 News

Twenty-three area faith leaders delivered a plea Monday to the Oakland Unified School District asking it to look at how its school closure plan will impact Black and Hispanic students. 

A few of those leaders as well as City Councilman Noel Gallo met at 11 a.m. outside the school district's headquarters at 1000 Broadway in Oakland to speak to reporters about their plea.

The faith leaders also want the district to look at how budget decisions affect Black and Hispanic students. Any budget recommendations must provide equitable outcomes, they said.

The faith leaders asked the school district to pause its closure/merger/consolidation plan until the two equity analyses are complete. 

"At the end of the day, we have to take care of our children," said Gallo, who raised three daughters and a son in Oakland schools and who was a school board member for 20 years. 

"Education is the number one priority for our children," he said. 

Gallo emphasized the importance of children remaining in the same school, especially in the early years. 

Seven schools are slated for closure before the 2023-24 school year, while two schools will be truncated to grades K-5 from K-8 and two schools will merge under the school board decision. 

The school board made its decision Feb. 8 and affirmed it on Feb. 18. 

Faith leaders realize the school board has a challenging job, and the decisions are complicated, they said. But they want the board to look through an equity lens when they make decisions. 

“We have to keep that front and center," said the Rev. Jim Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. 

Many in the community, including teachers, believe the school closures, mergers and consolidations will impact Black and Hispanic more than others. 

Faith leaders believe the way in which the issue is handled will help teach Oakland children the difference between right and wrong. 

The leaders denounced the threats of violence and vandalism against school board members that have followed the school board decision. Vandalism occurred at board Vice President Benjamin "Sam" Davis's house and at board President Gary Yee's home. 

The leaders also said it's important to teach children that their voice matters. The Rev. Michael Wallace, senior pastor at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, said students have been disrespected. 

"The highest values of our faith traditions call for the respect of all persons, the creation of structures that are just and equitable, collaboration instead of coercion, healing where wounds have been inflicted," the statement from the 23 leaders said. "We trust that our proposals, as well as our prayers, reflect these values."

"OUSD appreciates the support of the faith-based community for our school communities," district officials said in an email. "The District is now focused on carrying out the directions from the Board and ensuring a smooth transition for all impacted students."

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