Saying NO to School Closures

Lakeview students organizing against the closure of their school.  Credit: Mariel Waloff, Oakland North.

Lakeview students organizing against the closure of their school. Credit: Mariel Waloff, Oakland North.

On Wednesday February 8th, parents, students, teachers, and community members occupied the Oakland Unified School District Board meeting.  Occupy the Hood organized the event in response to the plan to close down five elementary schools in Oakland, all of them in working class communities of color: Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell, and Santa Fe.  This is part of a larger district-wide plan to close 30 schools over the next several years.

In this video, Occupy the Hood mic checks superintendent Tony Smith.  Their four demand are 1) OUSD: No school closures, 2) OUSD: Stop paying the $70 million debt incurred during the state takeover between 2003-2009, 3) Wall Street: use the bailout money to pay off OUSD debt, and 4) Protect all workers, no union busting.

Several dozen parents, students, teachers, and community members watched the meeting on a television feed in the overflow room because the OUSD board chambers had reached capacity.   During this entire mic check, the audio was intentionally cutoff–and the camera pointed away from the mic-checkers–for those of us in the overflow room.

In California, school funding is largely determined by Average Daily Attendance, which is been dropping in Oakland over the past decade due to truancy, dropouts/push-outs, and the proliferation of charter schools, among other factors.  The district claims that because of this, they cannot afford to maintain the facilities with fewer students.  Parents, teachers, and students have responded by saying that closing schools is tantamount to foreclosing on neighborhoods and destroying family-like communities.

The five school closures will save only $2 million, roughly equivalent to the amount spent of the militarized police crackdowns on Occupy Oakland marches and encampments.  If given time, families and educators say, a collective solution can be figured out to keep these schools open.  They are calling for two board members to reverse their YES vote on school closures, which occurred last fall, in order to reverse the original decision.

In other cities’ news: Detroit has plans to close half of their public schools by 2014, and just yesterday, over 1,000 New Yorkers protested the closing of 23 of schools in their city. What does it say when a society engaged in warfare, increasing mass incarceration, and passing austerity budgets continues to close its schools?

Look out for Occupy the Hood’s yet-to-be announced “SCHOOLS NOT JAILS” actions against the school-to-prison pipeline that will be coming up on Feb. 21st and March 1st.