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Oakland School Board to vote on school closures and mergers amid protests, opposition

Parker Elementary School in Oakland, California. Parker Elementary is one of the schools considered for closure this spring.
Clotee Pridgen Allochuku
Parker Elementary School in Oakland, California. Parker Elementary is one of the schools considered for closure this spring.

The school board’s proposal is the most recent effort to address the district’s budget deficit and declining enrollment. The plan – released last Tuesday – lists 16 possible schools for permanent closure or mergers. Officials say it could save the district up to $14 million in staff and overhead costs.

Oaklandside reported that the announcement has sparked immediate community backlash. On Monday, nearly 2,000people attended the district’s virtual board meeting to challenge the decision – which could mean larger class sizes and longer travel times for impacted students and teachers. Additional protests are planned throughout the city this week, including a staff hunger strike at Westlake Middle School.

Forty-three percent of the students at schools slated for closure are African-American, double the percentage of the district at large. Oakland’s majority African-American schools are at particular risk. Five of the six elementary schools that could close this spring are more than half African-American, some of the highest enrollment in the district.

At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell acknowledged the disproportionate impact on African-American students.

Opponents say the proposal’s rapid two-week turnaround could further alienate students and staff, who are already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The board is set to vote on the proposal next Tuesday.

I am a researcher and writer from Oakland, CA. I cut my teeth in radio at my college station and since graduating, I’ve worked as a paralegal, arts administrator, maritime historian, and most recently, a fellow at WorldAffairs, a global politics radio show and podcast co-produced with KQED. In my work, I am interested in the intersections of race, climate, and labor rights as well as place-based narratives of marginalization and the relationship between local history, public space, and identity formation, especially among queer and BIPOC communities. I am also passionate about drawing on the performing arts—particularly theater and music—to develop interview/storytelling practices grounded in mutual repair and community-building.