As new directors are set to take office in January on the Board of Education of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the Oakland Education Association (OEA), along with along with some advocates, say there will soon be enough votes to stop current plans to entirely or partially close six OUSD schools.“Our position has always been very clear on this issue: we are opposed to school closures,” said OEA 1st Vice President Ismael Armendariz in an interview. “Now the voters have spoken and there’s a clear mandate to stop closures.”
Currently, five elementary schools are scheduled to be closed by the end of the school year: Brookfield, Carl B. Munck, Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, Grass Valley, and Horace Mann. Additionally, the K-8 school Hillcrest is set to have its 6th–8th grades removed. But on November 30, Director Mike Hutchinson introduced a resolution to overturn all the scheduled closures. If at least two of the newly elected directors support Hutchinson’s resolution, along with Director Vancedric Williams, who has opposed school closures for his entire tenure on the board, the board will have the four votes needed to rescind the scheduled closures.
In interviews with this reporter, Valarie Bachelor and Jennifer Brouhard, who are set to take office as school board directors in January after winning their elections in November, both said they plan to vote to stop the closures. Bachelor and Brouhard highlighted rescinding school closures as a key element in their campaigns, and received endorsements and support from OEA.
OUSD’s enrollment process started on December 1, and families can now select which schools they would like to enroll their children in. Schools currently slated for closure, however, are not available to be selected on the enrollment portal. Bachelor and Brouhard oppose this omission.
“I think it’s hugely problematic that those sites are omitted from the enrollment system,” said Bachelor. “It’s extremely difficult to backfill positions and enrollment.”
In an interview, Brouhard said that by leaving these schools off of the enrollment website, OUSD is “choosing to believe these schools are closed when they’re not.”
When asked about how newly elected school board directors who oppose school closures affects the district’s current enrollment process, OUSD’s Director of Communications John Sasaki said “We follow the direction of the board, if that direction changes, we will follow that new direction.”
Bachelor and Brouhard both said they plan to vote in January to rescind the currently scheduled closures. If the board votes to overturn the closures, schools currently set for closure will appear on the enrollment website. The enrollment period extends until February 10. Sasaki has confirmed that waiting to make an enrollment selection does not affect who is prioritized for which school, as long as the selection is made within the enrollment period.
“All applications received between December 1st and February 10 are part of the on-time enrollment period and are treated the same,” said Sasaki.Ismael Armendariz, of OEA, said that since the schools set for closure are not currently available on the enrollment website, families interested in attending those schools should wait until after the vote in January to make their enrollment selections. They won’t be penalized for waiting.
“I want to encourage parents who have been fighting to keep their schools open to hang on a little bit longer,” said Armendariz. “Because Oakland voters are behind you.”
The election of two board members opposed to school closures came after backlash from proposed closures from staff, along with many students, families, and community members. Last February, OUSD’s Board of Education approved a plan to close or merge 11 schools over a two-year period. All of these schools enrolled (or still enroll) a significant majority of combined Black and Latinx students. To protest closures, OEA members staged a one-day strike, hundreds of students walked out of class to march, and two staff members held a hunger strike.
By the end of last school year the board voted to close two schools, Parker Elementary School and Community Day School, and partially closed La Escuelita, a K-8 school, by removing its 6th–8th grade classes. In response to the Parker Elementary School closure, OUSD family members, students and community members occupied the site for over four months, and organized services there that included a free summer school.
As new school board members are set to take office, Oakland-based groups opposed to school closures, like Parents United for Public Schools and Schools & Labor Against Privatization, are working to inform families that they can wait to enroll in schools currently set for closure.
“OUSD knows that the new board intends to reverse the school closures decision, but until then district staff will operate as if your school will close,” reads a message Parents United for Public Schools has been circulating on social media platforms. “There is no disadvantage to waiting [to make enrollment selections] until after the vote in January.”
OUSD community members, like Joel Velasquez, have also been working to inform the community. Velazquez ran for District 6 School Board Director on a platform opposing school closures but lost to Bachelor, who he supported as a second ranked choice option. Velazquez recently attended an OUSD presentation at Brookfield Elementary, a school currently scheduled to be closed, in order to remind families that they will likely be able to keep their students at the school.
According to district spokesperson Sasaki, OUSD is giving presentations at all schools currently scheduled for closure “to inform families and staff about changing schools/transferring work locations and to answer questions.” Velazquez, who has long protested against school closures, including organizing a 17-day sit-in opposing OUSD’s closure of Lake View Elementary in 2012, said the district is underemphasizing the likelihood that the schools will remain open in such presentations.
“We know the vote to close schools is going to be rescinded,” said Velazquez. “It’s important to call that out in front of the district.”
A slightly different version of this article appeared in The Oakland Post and on The Post News Group’s website.
Zack Haber is a poet and journalist who lives in West Oakland.