OUSD school board members will discuss a safety plan proposal to replace the district's police department. Credit: Courtesy: Black Organizing Project

The Oakland Unified School District board has two regular meetings left in 2020, and there’s a lot to cover before it breaks for the winter holidays and four new members are sworn in this January. At this week’s penultimate meeting, board members will hear proposals on several topics that could shape the district for years to come.

Diversity in enrollment

The school board will likely vote Thursday on pilots from three Oakland schools aiming to increase diversity on their campuses by adjusting the enrollment process to prioritize students from low-income neighborhoods. OUSD’s enrollment rules currently don’t take income, or diversity, into consideration when assigning students to schools. Enrollment is decided, in part, by the neighborhood a student lives in, which can lead to segregated schools when neighborhoods are racially segregated.

During a meeting two weeks ago, groups from Chabot Elementary, Sequoia Elementary, and Edna Brewer Middle School initially presented their proposals. Board members raised questions about whether saving some seats for students at three high-demand schools could be effective in alleviating systemic segregation, and what else the district could be doing to improve quality schools across the city. District 4 director Gary Yee also expressed concerns about how the enrollment pilots could cause more families to choose those three schools, leading to attrition at other campuses. 

At the same Oct. 28 meeting, board members approved an adjustment from the district’s enrollment committee that will allow pre-k students to continue to kindergarten at their school site or at the nearest elementary school. 

The three proposals will be presented again on Thursday with changes to address Yee’s concerns, including recommendations for how the superintendent and district staff can prevent attrition at other school sites.

If the board approves the updated proposals on Thursday, they will be in place for the upcoming enrollment period, which begins Nov. 12 and will determine school assignments for the 2021-2022 school year. Families will rank the schools they are interested in, and receive offers in the spring. 

Using district property for housing

District 3 Director Jumoke Hinton Hodge, who will be stepping down at the end of this year, is also introducing a resolution and new district policy around housing. On Thursday, the board could vote on her proposals to examine district properties and identify sites where housing could be built for students, their families, and district staff, and create plans to develop those sites. The resolution would also direct the superintendent to build low-cost housing for unhoused youth in the current 2020-2021 school year.

During the 2019-2020 school year, Oakland Unified School District enrolled 1,031 unhoused students, according to district data. That included youth who were sharing their home with other families, living in shelters, living in hotels, at campgrounds, or other sites that aren’t suitable for sleeping. More than half of those students were “newcomers,” or youth who have immigrated to the United States in the last three years. Ninety-eight percent of unhoused newcomer students arrived in the U.S. by themselves. 

Hinton Hodge’s new policy, if approved, would make building and maintaining housing a goal for the district. Not only would the effort provide housing to unsheltered students and staff, but it could also generate revenue for the district and offset the need for budget cuts in the future, according to the proposal. 

A new safety plan

In the months since the school board passed the George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland Schools Police Department, a group co-led by the Black Organizing Project and OUSD has been meeting to create a new safety plan to replace the school police department. At Thursday’s meeting, the safety plan will be introduced and will likely receive robust feedback from board members. 

Much of the work of coming up with a new plan involved examining district policies that called for police involvement, and either eliminating or revising them. Activists with the Black Organizing Project, who had been calling for OUSD to get rid of its police department for years, have pointed out that their work doesn’t end with eliminating the district police department, and will require a cultural change across the district. Without the school police department, the district will rely on the Oakland Police Department, but advocates want to move away from relying on police and punitive punishments in general.

Oakland Unified School District was the only school district in Alameda County that had its own police department, which had dwindled over the years to a staff of 57, including 47 unarmed school security officers. One big question around the new safety plan is what will happen to those school security officers, whom students often had a friendlier relationship with than the armed officers. The plan introduces new positions related to culture and climate that would focus on building relationships with students and preventing conflicts. It does not call for any of the current full-time school security officers to be laid off. 

The new plan also lays out mental health and de-escalation training for teachers, staff, and administrators, and calls for a three-year effort to transform district culture. During that phase, which would begin in January 2021, the district would develop anti-racist and de-escalation training, as well as measure the impact of the Geroge Floyd Resolution on discipline rates and school safety.

After hearing feedback from school board members, the safety plan’s working group will incorporate suggestions and will likely present the plan again at the school board’s Dec. 9 meeting for approval.

How to watch and give public comment

The school board usually meets on Wednesdays, but because Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, the board will meet Thursday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. Viewers can watch the meeting on Zoom and share their comments during the public comment portion, or write comments online on specific agenda items.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.