The community occupation of Parker Elementary School continued on Friday, a day after Oakland Unified changed school locks and district security staff forcefully removed people from the campus.
At a noon press conference at Parker, organizers opposed to the school’s closure said they’re determined to remain on campus in defiance of district officials, who’ve accused the community members of trespassing. A few dozen protesters appeared to be inside and outside the school building as of Friday afternoon.
Of the 11 Oakland schools scheduled to close, Parker and Community Day School, a small alternative school, were the first to go at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. But community members and parents reclaimed the campus as their own, renaming it Parker Community School and hosting summer learning, a free food program, and other activities.
The short-lived interruption of the more than two-month occupation on Thursday seems to have only reinvigorated the cause. When asked by a reporter at the press conference whether they “were in it for the long haul,” Parker parent Rochelle Jenkins and others answered in the affirmative.
“This moment is very important for our community and children and hard-working parents like me,” Jenkins told reporters.
On Thursday, district staff arrived at the Ney Avenue school and “found all the people who had been inside the building had left the premises,” OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki said in a statement. “So, staff changed the locks and set the alarm.”
Sasaki said “someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building.” People who had returned to Parker in the early evening Thursday were met by security guards, some in OUSD apparel and others in street clothes.
The confrontation turned violent, with security guards forcefully removing at least two people before word began to spread and several more neighbors, community members, and elected leaders showed up, leading to more physical altercations. At least two people went to the hospital with injuries, organizers of the Parker Community School press conference said Friday.
Organizers accused the district administration of sending in security to change the locks and clear people from the school. A press release from the group said one parent was unlawfully detained by security guards inside the building in handcuffs, while an assembly of nearly 60 people demanded that the parent be let go.
“As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building, and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security officers,” according to the press release. “More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to the hospital for treatment.”
Oakland police were called at 6:09 p.m. on a report of an assault in the 7900 block of Ney Avenue, where Parker is located, a police department spokesperson said.
Parker activists called for the district and school board to investigate the incident and said at least two board directors told them they were not notified that security was being sent there. School board Director Mike Hutchinson told The Oaklandside by text that he planned to seek out more information about the events that occurred Thursday. Hutchinson and other school board members were attending a scheduled board retreat on Friday. The first day of instruction for OUSD schools is Monday, Aug. 8.
Max Orozco, a parent at La Escuelita who also protested the closure of that campus’s middle school, identified himself as the person who was captured on video being detained by OUSD security inside Parker on Thursday. Orozco, who is running for the District 2 school board seat in the November election, suffered a busted lip and said talking pained him due to an injury to his chest.
“Sorry if I’m not too loud, my chest still hurts. Parker Community has been here since the school closed. We have never had any altercations,” Orozco said Friday. “This community has been a peaceful community since day one. Yesterday’s attack, it was uncalled for. I was held against my will, handcuffed. I am not a violent person. I don’t raise my voice, I don’t use my hands. Yet that did not stop anyone.”
Orozco called for school officials to investigate and “get to the bottom of this.” When asked what led up to the confrontation, Orozco said he couldn’t get into details but said the attack “happened so fast.”
Rebecca Ruiz, a member of the Anti Police Terror Project, said she was also injured by security, suffering a concusion. “I was thrown against a tile wall,” Ruiz said. “This is an attack on Black and brown children and the community who simply have the audacity of demanding to learn, to have equitable education.”
OUSD parent Joel Velasquez said Parker community members met late into the night Thursday and have been in discussions with elected city and school officials about the future of Parker. “We believe we are going to keep this going for what it is intended to be—community building and a school,” said Velasquez who is running for the District 6 seat in November.
In a statement issued Friday morning, Sasaki, the district spokesperson, said “the individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions.”