Teachers Picket to Stop School Closures at Oakland Unified

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Oakland teachers picketed Friday morning at eight schools in an attempt to reverse a plan to close or merge schools in the city's school district. 

The rallies started at 8 a.m. and took place at Westlake Middle School, Hillcrest Elementary School, Dewey Academy, Horace Mann Elementary School, Grass Valley Elementary School, La Escuelita Elementary School, Carl B. Munck Elementary School and Brookfield Elementary School. 

Teachers say more than a dozen schools may close or merge and are ones that serve mainly Black students or have historically served Black students. 

"We want to highlight that racial impact and who is being harmed by the school closures," said Ismael Armendariz, first vice president with the Oakland Education Association, which represents teachers in the Oakland Unified School District.

Teachers are "feeling under attack," he said.

Teachers are working to save schools because schools provide food and other social services that are important for students. Teachers are afraid students will leave the school district, Armendariz said. 

About 100 people attended a rally Friday morning with Armendariz at Westlake Middle School, located at 2629 Harrison St. 

School district documents show that 16 schools would be affected if the school board goes through with the idea. 

Those schools are Prescott Elementary School, Carl B. Munck Elementary School, Parker Elementary School, Brookfield Elementary School, Rise Community School/New Highland Academy, Grass Valley Elementary School, La Escuelita Elementary School, Westlake Middle School, Ralph J. Bunche High School, Dewey Academy, Community Day School, Horace Mann Elementary School, Manzanita Community School, Koramatsu Discovery Academy and Hillcrest Elementary School. 

Demographic data show that 36% of the population on average at those 16 schools is Black, while 42% is Hispanic. Less than 10% on average are Asian and less than 10% are white. 

OEA President Keith Brown said that when schools serving mainly Black students are closed and reopened as charter or new schools in the district, the reopened schools serve fewer Black students. 

He added that the focus of the school district during this pandemic should be the health and safety of people in the school community rather than closing schools.

Oakland teachers have the support of the Anti Police-Terror Project, and four Oakland city councilmembers are trying to aid the school district. 

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the APTP, called the idea a slap in the face to Black and Hispanic students. 

City councilmembers including Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Council Pro Tempore Sheng Thao, and Carroll Fife will be introducing a resolution asking state legislators to make some changes that would help the district. 

The City Council will vote on the resolution Feb. 15. It asks Gov. Gavin Newsom and other legislators to wipe out the school district's debt to prevent the school closures and revise state law to avoid penalizing schools when students are out sick. 

Average daily attendance plays a key role in how much money the school district receives from the state. 

Oakland Unified school board members will vote on the controversial idea Feb. 8 at 6 p.m.

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