Students at Oakland Technical High School staged a walkout in November 2021 to protest sexual harassment in schools. Credit: Amir Aziz

Last week’s shooting at Rudsdale High School that injured six people, including students, has sparked discussions about how to make Oakland students and school campuses safer and reignited questions about the role of police on campus, less than two years after Oakland’s school district decided to disband its police department. Former school security officers are now “culture and climate keepers,” who are charged with taking a more restorative, and less punitive, approach to campus safety. 

At a school board meeting hours after the shooting, Oakland Unified School District acting superintendent Sondra Aguilera said the district would be examining its safety protocols to determine whether improvements could be made.

Police haven’t made any arrests yet related to the Rudsdale shooting. But surveillance video shows two gunmen gaining entry into Rudsdale High School then quickly running away as students on the campus flee. More than 30 shots were fired, according to the Oakland Police Department, which responded to the crime scene along with county sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers.

It wasn’t the first instance of violence on an Oakland school campus this year. In August, a student at Madison Park Academy accidentally shot another student, and in September police responded to a stabbing and recovered a gun, also at the King Estates campus. 

With questions still swirling about what exactly happened last week, and what more can be done to prevent tragedies from occurring on school campuses, The Oaklandside spoke with six Oakland high schoolers, all of whom are deeply involved in student leadership and advocacy, about campus violence and what would make them feel safer at school. This is what they said in their own words, slightly edited for length and clarity.

Natalie Gallegos Chavez, 17, Oakland High School

Natalie is one of two student school board directors for Oakland Unified School District.

Natalie Gallegos Chavez said she and the other student school board director, Linh Le, are planning to survey OUSD students about school safety. Credit: Amir Aziz

Students are just very scared right now and shaken up. This has been continuing to happen, but every time it gets more scary for our students because we didn’t imagine for these things to happen.

We have heard from many young people that the culture and climate keepers are not doing a good enough job when it comes to ensuring safety for our young people. [Ed. note: When OUSD disbanded its police force, school security officers assumed non-enforcement roles focused on improving campus culture and climate.] Even though we do not have school police, that does not mean that our students’ safety should be at risk. We feel like there needs to be training with those culture and climate keepers so they can be trained on how to be there for the students more and ensure that there’s still safety for our students. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but from what I’ve seen, it felt like having [police] in our school sites caused more harm than good because it’s putting this perspective on young people that this is how our life is going to be—like we’re always going to be confronted by police or security, or whatever you want to call them. And this can potentially cause young people to be more likely to have a bad experience with a police officer, because we’re so frightened at what’s happening in our school sites already.

The George Floyd resolution, which took police off campus, was done for a reason—because our students feel unsafe with police in their schools, and I feel that this should still be respected. We do not want to keep repeating history because we saw that with the police it wasn’t working. Bringing police back, I still don’t think that is going to work because what matters first is our students feeling safe, and they didn’t feel safe in school with those police there. So bringing them back is just going to do more harm than good for our students.

We just want to see  the money that was originally for school police to be invested in different programs and trainings, such as restorative justice, so we’re able to heal our schools and our community. But also, for more training for the culture and climate keepers because they need to be able to find more ways to ensure the safety for our students.

Carlos Chavez, 16, Fremont High School

Carlos talks to middle school students across Oakland about violence prevention through the Teens on Target program at Youth ALIVE!, a local nonprofit.

Carlos Chavez, second from left, traveled to Sacramento with Youth ALIVE! earlier this year to advocate for Senate Bill 299, which provides more resources to victims of gun violence. Credit: Youth ALIVE!

A really big thing some teachers may mistake is the environment where a lot of these students come from or what’s going on at home. Because at home, nobody really sees what’s going on with us. I’ve had people who speak about how they still might get abuse from their parents. Their parents don’t treat them right, they don’t get the resources they need. As my peers and I went through this stuff, it seemed normalized.

And then with gun violence, a lot of these youth have easy access to weapons, and having this easy access allows us to just stay in a cycle. All the youth fighting, us having a problem with each other is all because of these weapons. It’s a form of power to others, but the truth is, a lot of these people are really just scared and they use [weapons] as a scare tactic to others to keep themselves safe. 

There’s nothing teens can really do right now besides speak up about what’s going on. We don’t have much of a role in what OUSD really wants to do with their money or how they want to control their schools, besides just us having an opportunity to talk with them and share how we feel about these situations. 

Adults need to listen to the youth more. It feels like OUSD only focuses on a few schools. Schools like Fremont and Castlemont are excluded from newer renovations at times, or when they have needs, they aren’t really met. The other schools get their needs met. 

I want to see metal detectors, because a lot of things are able to just sneak into a backpack. I’m not saying backpack checks are necessary, because it does invade somebody’s privacy, and there are things in there they need to take throughout the day. But they really do need to target our safety issues and problems going on. 

But at the end of the day, it relies more on having staff who can be friendly and have our students’ backs. Having our elders and the people in power actually listen to our youth and families about what’s going on would help. We’re listened to but problems aren’t taken care of. These situations really need accountability.

Bria Woodland, 16, Envision Academy of Arts and Technology

Bria is a member of the Oakland Youth Commission and serves on its restorative justice subcommittee.

A senior at Envision Academy, Bria believes more restorative justice and healing practices could help alleviate violence on school campuses. Credit: Bria Woodland

In all of my schools, there’s been different lockdowns for different reasons. Last year my school locked down because students brought guns to school. This year there was a lockdown because students from outside came onto campus to start a fight. One thing that’s been pretty consistent with all my schools has been communication between teachers and administrators about how the lockdown and the rest of our day is going to be.

I do feel safe on campus, especially given the new measures that have been implemented this year. Because (the previous) incident happened during lunch time, when our doors are typically open, there are more restrictions as to when students can go off campus, and if you do come into campus you can’t leave again, as well as the doors being closed and locked. 

Our “security” would be the staff that’s in the school, and certain staff have specific roles to keep the culture and safety in our school. Like our coach—he’s technically not a security officer, he’s like every other staff on campus.

I often hear the conversations between the administrators and all the adults in school, but they never take into consideration how the students feel. If a student does say they don’t feel safe in school, they don’t typically get the student’s recommendations as to how they can feel more safe. 

Since my own school’s incidents, they’ve taken safety measures to protect us and I do feel more comfortable. But I also feel on edge because this violence is happening in our own backyards, and in our neighborhoods. I know students who go to BayTech [one of the schools co-located with Rudsdale on the King Estates campus] who could’ve gotten hurt. 

I think we need to implement more restorative justice practices. Oftentimes, there’s a reason why a student brings a gun to school, whether it’s to harm someone or to feel more protected. I feel like oftentimes there are punitive punishments when there should be restorative justice practices that teach them to find other ways, healthier ways to express how they feel, especially in times of anger and frustration and how to reintegrate that back into their community, so everyone feels more safe and connected without being on edge or feeling disconnected. 

My school implemented a restorative justice council so when there are situations like a fight or an altercation between students or between a student and a teacher, or anybody in a community, it can be handled amongst our peers without there being bias or seeming like someone is more in charge than someone else, as well as teaching each other how to handle things efficiently and effectively without causing an uproar.

I also believe there should be more healing circles, especially in schools. A lot of the students, even though they weren’t physically hurt, are still impacted by the situations that have been happening in our schools, and we don’t talk enough about it or how to healthily cope with knowing that people in our community are being harmed. 

I work with BAY-PEACE and from them I’ve learned about healing circles. Typically there’s an altar in the middle where we express what’s hurt us in the past, what we’ve learned from it and how we’ve been coping with it. We learn a new way to cope with it to help everyone understand they aren’t alone in their experiences and they have their community to depend on when needed. 

I’ve seen it make an impact within my own community and even my family and my chosen family as well. We’ve had healing circles or restorative justice circles, which are very similar, and we’ve been able to express our feelings and thoughts and concerns and also get honest feedback and conversation from others as well. 

Mia Hatfield, 16, Oakland Technical High School

Mia is a member of the Oakland Youth Commission and last year served on its youth homelessness subcommittee.

Mia, a sophomore at Oakland Tech, said shootings across the street from her school have left her shaken. Credit: Mia Hatfield

Last year, I did experience a couple close calls with shootings because they happened right across from our school and we had to lock down our school and I was terrified. I was like, “Oh my god, this is the day I die, this is so scary!” I’m very thankful we only had a couple. I just felt really, really scared. 

To be honest, I didn’t feel safer with police on campus. I did not feel safer because they just wouldn’t do anything. There are so many fights that happen and so many fights that escalate to gun violence and I don’t feel safe because of that.

I think having restorative justice for the people in those fights would make me feel safer, and having more ways for students to talk about their actions. I wouldn’t say therapy sessions, but more programs to talk about why they’re mad and why they want to fight people.

I also think we should have more protection for the security that is on our campus. I’m not saying they should have guns, but they should have at least a Taser or something that could prevent a potential shooter from entering our school.

I think youth should also be part of these conversations. It’s not just adults that experience violence, it’s youth. People have lost their social skills because we’ve been cooped up in our houses for two years and people are just—they don’t know how to reincorporate themselves into the world as being kind and empathetic to one another. 

I want the adults to know that this is a huge problem and we need to address it before more situations like the one last week happen. I am personally kind of disappointed that we don’t do more community bonding circles. I think that would also help. I’m scared but I’m also disappointed that this is just what the Oakland community has come to, shooting people. This is not okay. We need to have more preventative measures before we talk about fighting someone, shooting someone, or stabbing someone. Any violence needs to be, obviously, stopped. But we need to have solutions before students reach the point of violence towards themselves or other people. 

Stephanie Jovel, 17, Oakland Unity High School

Stephanie is a youth leader with Families in Action for Quality Education.

A student leader with Families in Action, Stephanie believes education advocacy organizations like hers could ask school leaders their plans for keeping students safe. Credit: Stephanie Jovel

Thankfully, I haven’t gone through something as traumatic as what happened last week. With my school, they’re somewhat doing a better job of keeping students safe. My experience has always been a little better than what other people have gone through. 

My school is small and the neighborhood is safer. When you go to my school, they have a camera at the entrance that distinguishes who you are and they unlock the door to let you in. That makes me feel a little safer, that they have to approve for someone to go in. 

Hearing what happened last week, something that would help would be better preparing students. God forbid something else happens in our school, but I feel like students should be better prepared for any occasion because, sadly, something like gun violence—knowing what to do if something like that happens would be more comforting to myself.

I feel that adults mostly talk about having security around, but I would say they’re looking at the small aspect and not the big picture of controlling gun violence itself. It’s mainly in the hands of the people who have the power to vote and make decisions on behalf of students. Because most of us are minors, we’re not able to vote. Put yourself in the shoes of those who have lost people just because someone decided to go in and shoot people in a school. Families, schools and students have gone through gun violence and they haven’t seen any results. That’s something they need to keep in mind.

After a traumatic experience like [the King Estates shooting], better mental health support can be an important aspect. Many students don’t want to pursue education or become a better person in the future because they feel unsafe going to school. Mental health and security and affirmation from adults, is something that I think can help. 

Gun violence is really heartbreaking. Actions need to start happening right now rather than brushing it off. Right now, with the school board elections coming up, we can ask what the candidates’ perspectives are or how they would fix the issue.

Cassandra Young, 17, Skyline High School

Cassandra is a member of the Oakland Youth Commission and serves on its social media executive committee.

Cassandra, a senior at Skyline High School, feels more teachers should acknowledge the tragedy that happened at Rudsdale instead of brushing it off. Credit: Cassandra Young

I remember not that long ago there were police in school. At my school there was a police officer who’d come around and some students wouldn’t be comfortable around the police officer because of all of the police crimes occurring at the time. Now, we just have security or hallway monitors.They’re cool when they tell students to go to class. I feel like they’re very communicative with the students but sometimes it’s a little too much. A little too casual. 

I wouldn’t say I felt safer with police, only because I knew that some of my friends weren’t so comfortable with police officers, which made me feel a little unsettled. Having better drills, like fire drills, would make me feel more safe. I don’t think we’ve ever practiced that at my school to be honest. That’s a start. I know that there can be students with weapons in their backpacks. Is there a way we can prevent a shooting by checking people’s backpacks or that kind of enforcement? 

There’s a couple of teachers who actually acknowledged the shooting and others who just brushed past like nothing happened. Acknowledging the situation, giving students a place to be able to speak about it if they had anybody who was harmed by the situation, and just support like that, would help.

I want adults to know that there are a lot of students who are numb to the situation because of the fact that everything gets brushed off and there’s nothing being done or any changes being made. Just acknowledgement, which is okay. But we’re waiting and hoping for some kind of change. 

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.