oakland unified school district

Oakland Protesters File Excessive Force Suit Against School District

File photo of a gavel

Eight parents and teachers filed a federal lawsuit against the Oakland Unified School District on Thursday alleging that police officers used excessive force against them in a confrontation at a school board meeting in October in which some of them were injured.

The confrontation occurred at an Oct. 23 meeting at which parents and teachers protested against the large number of charter schools in the district and the district's plan to close some schools and merge them with other schools.

Video from the meeting showed police officers striking the protesting parents with batons as they approached a metal barricade. Six protesters were arrested at the meeting.

Speaking at a news conference outside Oakland Technical High School, civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, who represents the plaintiffs, said that in addition to alleging that officers used excessive force the suit alleges that the school district violated the protesters' First Amendment free speech rights by denying them the right to speak at the board meeting.

School district officials and school board members have alleged that protesters who oppose the plans to close schools have disrupted numerous board meetings, but the suit claims that by cracking down on protesters the district intended to "chill and interfere with plaintiffs' constitutionally protected rights to speech, assembly and association."

School district spokesman John Sasaki declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

A day after the Oct. 23 meeting, school district Police Chief Jeff Godown defended the use of batons on protesters, saying officers were using enough force to keep the protesters from pushing forward and from getting on the stage where school board members were seated.

Godown said officers were injured during the confrontation as well.

Saru Jayaraman, a University of California at Berkeley professor, activist and author who has two daughters at a school slated to be closed, said she was thrown to the ground and the force police used against her caused her to suffer two torn ligaments and a torn meniscus in her knee, requiring her to undergo major knee surgery on Dec. 31.

Amy Haruyama, a first-grade teacher with 25 years of experience, said an officer shoved her with a baton and knocked her off her feet, causing her to suffer neck injuries and a bruised arm.

Haruyama described the officer's actions as "very traumatizing."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the district to change its practices as well as unspecified damages for medical expenses and loss of employment. It also seeks unspecified general, punitive and special damages.

In addition to the school district, the suit names Godown and Sgt. Donald Perrier as defendants.

Jayaraman also announced that a group called the Oakland Not For Sale coalition is launching an effort to recall Oakland school board President Jody London.

Jayaraman said the coalition is seeking to recall London because it believes London and other board members have an agenda "to shut down public schools" and replace them with charter schools that she said are backed by billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates and members of the Walton family that founded Walmart.

Jayaraman said the coalition will begin gathering signatures next week and needs 9,000 people to sign its petition to put the effort to recall London on the ballot in a special election in May or June.

Jayaraman said the coalition also plans to launch similar recall efforts against other school board members in the future.

Jayaraman said, "They'd better watch their backs!"

In addition, Jayaraman said the Oakland Not For Sale coalition is backing new school board candidates who are pro-public schools and will fight against charter schools.

Candidates Alicia Johnson, who will run in District 1, and Cherisse Gash, who will run in District 4, spoke at the news conference.

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