Oakland Unified School Board Approves School Closures, Mergers Amid Public Outcry

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The Oakland Unified School District Board of Education narrowly approved a measure to close or merge nearly a dozen schools during a contentious meeting that began Tuesday night and lasted into the early morning hours Wednesday.

The measure is an effort to confront an expected budget deficit and has brought protests from students, teachers and parents, including a hunger strike by two teachers.

The virtual meeting drew hundreds of callers, all of which opposed the district's plan during a public comment session.

Despite the public opposition, the board approved an amended version shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The measure approved will close two schools at the end of the current school year: Community Day School and Parker Elementary School.

Five more schools will close at the end of the next school year in 2023: Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy and Horace Mann Elementary.

In addition, the measure approved merges RISE Elementary into New Highland Academy Elementary for the start of the 2022-23 school year. Beginning that same school year, La Escuelita Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary will eliminate grades 6-8.

According to the district, school mergers or closures are needed due to declining enrollment, particularly in its elementary schools. Because public schools are funded based on enrollment, this has led to a deficit over the next two years. The district says 35 percent of its schools are enrolled at "below sustainable" levels.

Declining enrollments, the district says, are caused by factors including lower birth rates, pandemic-related moves out of the district and a lack of affordable housing.

Demographic data show that 36 percent 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.

Oakland Education Association 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.

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