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At the first school board meeting of the academic year on Wednesday, community members demanded accountability and an investigation from district leadership over an altercation at Parker K-8 last week that left several people injured.
Teachers also called attention to two educators who recently lost their jobs after speaking out against school closures and supporting the ongoing occupation of Parker, a school that was officially closed earlier this year.
“It’s been almost a week since the assault that I suffered at Parker. I asked and demanded for answers,” said Max Orozco, an OUSD parent who raised his arm to show the bruises on his bicep. “This board knows who gave the instructions for us to be attacked.”
Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell offered an apology to the Parker community for the disruption, in a statement where she claimed those occupying the building broke into the school and set off security alarms. Last Thursday, OUSD staff visited Parker to move supplies and equipment out of the building, Johnson-Trammell said. When they arrived, they found the building empty and changed the locks and set the alarm.
“For reasons that are not clear, some individuals returned to the site later that day, broke in, and attempted to re-occupy the building,” Johnson-Trammell said. “They set off the alarm, and the district security vendor responded to prevent trespassing and damage to the building.”
She added that the incident is under review, and that “the district does not condone violence by anyone. We apologize to our Parker neighbors for any disruption caused by Thursday’s events. We also ask everyone in our school communities to work with us in a way that helps ensure that these kinds of events don’t occur in the future.”
In February, the school board voted to close Parker, a school that has served East Oakland for nearly 100 years, at the end of the school year. Despite protests, petitions, a hunger strike, and countless remarks at board meetings against the closures, Parker and Community Day School, a small alternative school for students expelled from other campuses, had their last classes in May. On the last day of school, a group of Parker parents, children, and supporters vowed to occupy the building indefinitely, or until OUSD reopened the school.
Over the summer, the Parker coalition put on a summer program in the building, inviting community members to teach classes like art, music, and gardening to students. While OUSD officials made periodic visits to the campus over the summer, last week was the first physical confrontation.
Parker parents and supporters who attended Wednesday’s meeting contend that they never left the campus last Thursday, and haven’t left since May 25.
“That school is big as hell. Did they search every room to see if somebody was around? No they did not,” said Rochelle Jenkins, whose children attended Parker. “Those guards came there and they attacked us. We have never—and I mean never—raised a hand, a finger, been hostile or anything. There were parents and children there the day you did this.”
Videos shared with The Oaklandside showed security officers pushing people, attempting to detain them, and forcefully removing them from the building. Two community members went to the hospital for treatment, and one woman suffered a concussion. Orozco, a parent at La Escuelita who has been outspoken about school closures, was handcuffed and detained inside the building.
Walter Riley, a local criminal justice attorney, said the group will be filing a lawsuit against the school district and its top administrators, including Superintendent Johnson-Trammell and Chief Governance Officer Josh Daniels.
Questions surround security firm hired by OUSD
Community members also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the security force that they say attacked them last Thursday. In May, the school board approved a contract with the firm Overall and Associates Security, Inc. Secretary of State records show that the firm is not in good standing with the state Franchise Tax Board, but owner Timothy Overall said that is not accurate.
“They’re real slow about moving things around,” Overall told The Oaklandside.
He added that his firm has had contracts with OUSD in the past and he’s currently in the process of renewing a contract, but that his work with the district doesn’t usually include responding to alarms. The $30,000 contract that OUSD approved in May began in April and expired on June 30, 2022.
“I’ve never done alarm response with OUSD. There’s another company that does that,” he said. “Just staff meetings, that’s what we’ve been assigned to do. Alarm response is not in the scope of what I do with OUSD at all.”
Overall said he did not receive a call in regards to the incident at Parker last week. OUSD spokesman John Sasaki did not respond to a question about whether it was Overall and Associates Security, Inc., who responded to Parker.
However, Overall told Oakland Voices in an interview that the security guards involved in the altercation at Parker last week were indeed from his company. “We were just there monitoring, a couple of my guys got knocked around,” Overall said. “None of my security personnel lost their professionalism. They were just standing there making sure no one could gain access [to the school].”
District 5 Director Mike Hutchinson told The Oaklandside that Overall and Associates Security, Inc. is Oakland Unified’s only security firm.
“Thursday is going to cost all of us in a number of ways,” said Hutchinson at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “I’m going to fight to make sure that firm is not contracted again within this district, and that whoever authorized that decision is held publicly accountable.”