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Crosscurrents

Paying to Ride the School Bus

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H. Micheal Miley
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Skyline is one of 15 public high schools in Oakland and the only one located in the Hills. The 42-acre campus is nestled among redwoods and million dollar homes.  Nearly 2,000 students attend this traditional campus and many value the diverse student body.  But that wasn’t always the case.

Skyline High opened in 1961, and was almost immediately surrounded by conflict. It’s proposed attendance zone was one mile wide, ten miles long, and based entirely in the hills, which excluded students from the flatlands. This kept the school racially, as well as economically, homogenous -- despite the fact that the city’s black population nearly doubled during the previous decade.

The entire nation was deep in a heated debate over school desegregation, including then president John F. Kennedy. “It ought to be possible therefore for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select,” he said in a 1963 speech.

In 1964, following the release of a citizens’ advisory committee report, the NAACP insisted Skyline re-draw the school zone and allow open enrollment. That idea was met by protest from Skyline’s surrounding residents, who said it would spark white flight from the neighborhood. The Oakland school board initially ignored requests for new school boundaries.

But in 1965, the school board implemented a plan to allow unlimited open enrollment for Skyline and the school gradually began to integrate.  Tensions remained high between hills and flatlands students during the late sixties and seventies, often erupting in fights.

Today, Skyline has one of the most diverse school populations in all of California: About 34% Latino students, 33% African American, 20% Asian American and nearly 10% white.  Skyline is essentially an urban school in the most suburban part of the city.

That means most students at Skyline don’t live in the neighborhood, they commute from East and West Oakland, so getting to Skyline can be complicated.

Oakland does not offer subsidized transportation for students, and that leaves some students struggling to afford the cost of getting to school.

Maddie Fowler is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland. Mills reporters spent a semester getting to know the kids, teachers and culture of Skyline High School to bring us a portrait of the school.