Students from Westlake Middle School and West Oakland Middle School rallied at Frank Ogawa Plaza against possible closures and mergers at Oakland Unified School District. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Withstanding hunger pangs, weakness, and health concerns, Westlake Middle School staff members Moses Omolade and Andre San-Chez stood firm on Tuesday—day eight of their hunger strike against likely school closures in Oakland Unified School District—declaring the strike will not end until their demands are met and the school board votes against the plan, which would close or merge more than a dozen schools this year and next.

The strike is one of several actions that Oakland community members have led during the last week to protest the plan, which is being proposed as a way to trim OUSD’s budget deficit

During a press conference at Westlake that Omolade joined virtually—he was taken to the emergency room for medical treatment earlier Tuesday due to health concerns—San-Chez laid out their demands:  a meeting with Gov. Gavin Newsom, the forgiveness of OUSD’s remaining $21 million state loan balance, the return of money that OUSD has already paid the state on its loan, and an end to state and county oversight of OUSD.

San-Chez and Omolade are also asking school board directors to vote no on the closure plan during Tuesday night’s meeting, for teachers who have been involved in protest actions to have their jobs protected, for a meeting with Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and all the school board members, and for the board to honor previous policies about bringing an equity lens to any school closure plans. The proposed plan would have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown students. 

Students protested OUSD closures on Tuesday at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Credit: Amir Aziz

“And from the community, we ask that you continue to love and support us as we continue to show up and put pressure on these local officials,” San-Chez said. “And we know that it might not be over tonight. If our school board continues to tell us this is not the end, we will continue to fight and we ask that you all will too.”

Students again took to the streets Tuesday, walking out from Westlake Middle School to Frank Ogawa Plaza to hold a rally against the closures, and were joined by students from West Oakland Middle School. In the proposed plan, Westlake Middle School students would relocate from their campus near Lake Merritt and merge with West Oakland Middle School, about a mile away. 

Moses Omolade gets carried away from the tent at Westlake Middle School by doctors to be taken to the hospital due to health concerns during the hunger strike. Credit: Amir Aziz

“If you close down our schools you’re closing down our dreams. Westlake isn’t just a school, it’s a home,” Isabel Ruiz, a 7th-grader, said at the rally. “You will be taking away our opportunities and our futures. If you try to take away our dreams, as you can see, we will fight back.”

Today at 5 p.m., the OUSD school board will continue discussing the plan that would impact nearly a quarter of district schools. A vote will also happen.

During last week’s meeting, the first opportunity that board members had to discuss the plan, nearly 2,000 people joined the virtual gathering, and board members heard comments from community members for five hours. Public comment is again expected to be lengthy tonight, and a vote could happen late Tuesday night or in the early morning hours on Wednesday. 

Hunger strikers and their supporters held a press conference at Westlake Middle School on Tuesday. Credit: Amir Aziz

The proposed plan would close Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Community Day School, Grass Valley Elementary, Prescott Elementary, and Parker K-8, this year. Next year, Korematsu Discovery Academy and Horace Mann Elementary could close. 

Other changes include merging Westlake Middle School with West Oakland Middle School, combining Dewey Academy and Ralph J. Bunche Academy at the Westlake campus, merging Manzanita Community School with Fruitvale Elementary School, and consolidating RISE Community School with New Highland Academy. Hillcrest and La Escuelita, two schools serving kindergarten to 8th grade, could become strictly elementary schools.  

Hours ahead of the meeting, District 1 Director Sam Davis released a proposed amendment that he and District 4 Director Aimee Eng will be introducing tonight. The amendment would remove Prescott from the closure list and would take Westlake, Ralph Bunche, Dewey Academy, and Manzanita Community school off the list of proposed mergers. The proposal would also postpone the closures of Brookfield, Grass Valley, and Carl Munck to next year. In a statement on his website, Davis wrote that the goal with their amendment is to give the district more time to plan. 

Omolade, speaking from the hospital, denounced Davis’ resolution as an effort to divide the community. 

“I don’t care if y’all take us off that list,” he said. “We said no schools, no closures, and that’s it. It doesn’t stop until they show up and talk to us and humanize this process.”

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 Oakland Unified School District teachers’ strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News where she covered several local school districts, charter schools, and the community college system. McBride earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, has held positions at the Palm Beach Post and the Poynter Institute, and is a recent Hearst Journalism Fellow.