Students, families, teachers, and community members joined a rally outside of the Elihu M. Harris state building in downtown Oakland to protest school closures. Credit: Amir Aziz

Ten days after voting to move forward with a plan to close, merge, or downsize 11 schools, the Oakland Unified School District board reaffirmed its decision during a special meeting on Friday night. 

School board members announced the emergency meeting on Thursday after days of community protests, student rallies, and a hunger strike by two Oakland educators, leading some to believe that the board would postpone the closures until next year. 

Instead, the board pushed ahead, citing the district’s budget deficit and declining enrollment as reasons for needing to take action now. 

Board members were considering a resolution that would have postponed the closure of Community Day School and Parker K-8 to next year, and allowed La Escuelita to have another year with its middle school grades. 

The resolution failed, with directors VanCedric Williams and Mike Hutchinson voting in favor, and directors Aimee Eng, Clifford Thompson, and Gary Yee voting against. Director Sam Davis abstained, and Director Shanthi Gonzales did not attend the meeting. 

“The fundamental conditions of OUSD and the justification for the need to do this has not changed in the past 10 days. We’re still operating twice as many school districts with similar size, enrollment, and demographics,” said Director Eng, who met with families at La Escuelita earlier this week. “This is not sustainable. As hard as it is, I do believe it is in the best interest of our students to continue to move forward.”

Moses Omolade and Andre San-Chez, who began a hunger strike Feb. 1, had been meeting with individual board members over the past two weeks to talk about the closures. They agreed to end their strike if the board would hold a special meeting on Friday, and told The Oaklandside yesterday before the meeting they did consider it a victory that the board agreed to do so, and were optimistic about board members changing their minds. But that optimism was short-lived. 

Each gave a short presentation during the meeting, and pledged to keep fighting against the closures. While Omolade, a community school manager at Westlake Middle School, said he would be ending his strike Friday, San-Chez, who works as the choir director at Westlake, posed the question to the community: “Should I end my hunger strike, or will you join me in defending our school and children with your bodies?”

Several individuals, including students, teachers, and parents, pledged to begin a hunger strike on Feb. 19. All of the people who commented publicly during the meeting were opposed to the plan, which had also been the case at the previous two board meetings where closures were discussed. 

“I’m urging you to postpone these closures. If you do not, I, as a student, someone who is growing and developing, will put my body on the line with our educators and I will go on a hunger strike starting tomorrow,” said Aniyah Story, a senior at Oakland High School.

Director Davis, who with Eng introduced a scaled-down plan last week that took some schools off the chopping block, objected to San-Chez’s call for others to join the hunger strike. 

“This meeting happened, to my understanding, as part of a process to bring an end to the hunger strikes. Instead, it’s become a platform for calling for more of them,” he said. “I’m more than willing to be part of a process to really discuss the reasons, the impacts behind our vote last week, and how to address them, and how to change them as needed. It’s impossible to have an authentic discussion about the issues at stake when we hear people threatening to harm themselves.”

Directors Wililams and Hutchinson maintained their opposition to all school closures and pledged to continue organizing with community members to stop them from happening. A community town hall will take place on Saturday at Markham Elementary at 2 p.m.

As it stands, La Escuelita will lose its middle school and Parker K-8 and Community Day School will close at the end of this school year. Rise Community Elementary will also merge with New Highland Academy at the end of this school year. 

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.