No to School Closures! Yes to School Liberation!

Bill Balderston (OEA member and organizer)

June 2, 2022

In a followup to the mobilization/strikes of April 29th in Oakland (see article in the Solidarity Webzine from May 1st) around school closures and resistance to the proposed stadium gentrifying project, a new wave of activity has been unleashed, now focused on the occupation and liberation of one of the four Oakland schools targeted for being shut down.
 
Parker Elementary in East Oakland, a working class area largely of black and brown people, was officially closed on May 25th, at the end of the school year. In response, the next day,
a substantial number of  parents, youth, community and teacher/worker activists have taken over the  campus. Currently numbering at 65, in rotating shifts, the protesters sleep in the auditorium and are planning to begin a community school. There will be GED classes and other activities, such as a chess club and farm-to-table classes.
 
This action comes after many attempts to reverse the cuts and closures policy, backed by a majority of the school board and linked to threats made late in 2011 by the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, L. K. Monroe, of a state takeover of the District. The efforts to reverse this course included repeated protests at school board meetings, a hunger strike by two teachers at Westlake MS, the aforementioned one day strike, and an unfair labor practice walkout based on the contention that the dictatorial process taken to close the sites violated a negotiated agreement with the educators’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA). 
 
There was a festive rally in the playground at Parker last Saturday (May 28th) to show support. At the event, Timothy Killings, a caseworker also from Westlake MS, stated, “Parents are liberating the school and want to keep it open and turn it into a real community resource”. While the school district sent its Chief Governance Officer, Josh Daniels, with a letter to those camping at Parker stating that they are ‘illegally trespassing’, he maintained that the District will not request force to remove people, since women and children are amongst those occupying; many there do not trust those words. One of those camping in is Misty Cross, a member of the Moms 4 Housing group based in West Oakland (they received national publicity in 2020 for occupying deserted housing there). She observed that “We can’t keep trying to save a culture that was built to make us fail. We now need to create a new one too,
where it works with us.”  She also noted this is reminiscent of the work done by the Black Panthers in the 60s to feed and educate Black children in Oakland. It also reminds some of a school takeover near downtown Oakland at the Lakeview School, which was occupied for 17 days in 2011. Joel Velasquez, who was a leader in that effort and sent his three children to the “People’s School for Public Education” there, is now part of  the “Parker Liberation’ movement.
 
Some of the organizing for this ‘liberation’ occurred  thru SLAP (School and Labor Against Privatization’), which also played an important role in the April 29th strike mobilizations. Their demands mirror those of the Parker Liberation coalition : (1) “We demand that the OUSD Board reverse its decision to close or truncate schools in 2021-22 and 2022-2023; (2) we demand that school closures  and consolidations be removed entirely from the OUSD’s approach to fiscal management; and (3) we demand that the OUSD Board repair the consequences of their decision to close and truncate schools in 2021-2022 and 2022-23, specifically school site enrollment and funding.”
 
Their vision is linked to the theme of support for diversity in race, culture, heritage, exceptional needs, gender and sexual orientation, for the health and wellness of our communities. This means every student thriving ‘in their full potential… in college, career and community success’, including life-long learning.
 
It is contradictory that when Oakland (and other districts) are seeking and receiving millions of dollars from the state of CA to create/ strengthen “community schools” (with wrap around services), OUSD seeks to shut down schools that would serve such a purpose. (The ACLU is currently suing the District for policies, including these closures, which are discriminatory to students of color). This also at a time when the state has announced a $97 billion budget surplus, over forty percent of which will go to schools. The fight is and will continue to be what are the priorities for public education.

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