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Oakland Unified School District is asking families to keep their students home this Friday, April 29, when the Oakland Education Association teachers union is planning to stage a one-day strike against school closures. The union announced the strike on Sunday.
The school district sent the message to families Tuesday, after sending the teachers union a cease and desist letter last week. The district maintains that the strike is in violation of its current collective bargaining agreement with the union, and is pursuing legal remedies against the action.
The union contends that OUSD is in violation of a district policy that requires schools and families to be given adequate time to plan in the event of a closure. Seventy-five percent of the OEA members who voted were in favor of the one-day strike, according to the union.
“We call on OUSD and our elected officials to provide students and schools with the support that they need, instead of closing our schools,” said OEA President Keith Brown at a union press conference on Tuesday. “Stop the disruption, stop the dislocation for Oakland students and educators.”
The one-day strike is the latest protest against the district over school closures, which have long been a contentious issue in OUSD. Two middle school staff members went on an 18-day hunger strike earlier this year, and students, teachers, and families have held school walkouts, marches, and other gatherings to object to the closures.
District leaders have said the closures are necessary to save money, and that declining enrollment has left OUSD with too many schools for the number of students it enrolls. A financial analysis of the closures and consolidations commissioned by OUSD estimated the district would save between $4 and $15 million. By choosing to close schools, the district also became eligible to receive an extra $10 million in one-time state funding through Assembly Bill 1840, which allocates money to financially struggling school districts that take steps to reduce spending.
This year, Community Day School and Parker K-8 will close, and La Escuelita K-8 will lose its middle school. RISE Community School and New Highland Academy are also merging into one school this year. Next year, five more schools will close: Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Korematsu Discovery Academy. Hillcrest K-8 will become strictly an elementary school next year.
Opponents have pointed out that the schools being closed have disproportionately higher numbers of Black students than the district as a whole, where Black students comprise less than a quarter of the total enrollment. More than half of the students at Community Day, Grass Valley, Parker, and Carl B. Munck are Black. Families of students with disabilities have also called attention to how the closures could upend their lives.
“The schools that are closing have a high number of students with disabilities,” said Ismael Armendariz, OEA vice president. “These are students who already face ostracization at their school sites, they’re often segregated, and that have instability in their schools, because of the way in which we place students in special education.”
In a message sent to families Tuesday, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said it’s unlikely that the district will be able to cover for all the staff absences on Friday, and that families should not send their children to school that day. All of the school sports happening on Friday will also be canceled or rescheduled.
“We know this presents many challenges for many of our families, particularly given the short notice we all had about this,” Johnson-Trammell said. “Losing a day of school, particularly for students who are struggling and need more time with their teachers, can have a big impact.”
In March 2019, the OUSD school board approved a resolution stating that no closure, merger, or consolidation would happen without providing impacted school sites and families at least nine months, or one school year, to plan. That resolution came one month after a seven-day teacher strike by OEA over low salaries, growing classroom sizes, and school closures.
The OUSD board voted in February to approve the most recent round of closures, several of which will be implemented by August, or roughly seven months after the vote. In response, the teachers union filed a charge of unfair labor practice with the Public Employee Relations Board, saying that OUSD violated its own resolution and refused to bargain the impacts of the closures with the union.
Opponents of school closures have also pointed to the “Reparations for Black Students” resolution, which directs the district to analyze any closures, consolidations, or mergers, for how those decisions might have outsized impact on students of color, low-income students, or students with disabilities.
“We’ve done every single thing we can think of to express just how harmful these closures are and just how much damage it does not only for one day, but for an eternity,” said Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, another officer in OEA. “These permanent school closures have incredible harm on communities of color, especially those in the Black community.”
Mandy Hu, a staff attorney for the California Teachers Association who is representing OEA, said a hearing on the unfair labor charge is set for May 20 with the Public Employee Relations Board. During the hearing, both sides will present their case. A judge will issue a decision, but their deliberation could take months. OUSD could also request an injunction from the Public Employee Relations Board before Friday to try to stop the strike.
That may not be the only legal matter that Oakland Unified faces over its closure plan. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has also filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office. The ACLU claims that the district’s closures have had disproportionate impacts on Black students historically, and is urging Rob Bonta to investigate.
“If closures have to happen, they should not be done on the backs of Black students and Black families who have borne the brunt of this history of targeting schools for closure and mergers,” said ACLU staff attorney Linnea Nelson. “In the current closure plan, the district didn’t conduct the required equity analysis, the school district failed to consult with OUSD students, families, community leaders while they developed it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that 75% of OEA’s members voted in favor of the one-day strike. In fact, it was 75% of the union members who voted. The story was updated on April 22, 2022 to reflect this.