Oakland communities rally to keep schools open
Teacher and student holding sign, 'Keep Brookfield open!' Profesor y estudiante con cartel, '¡Mantener Brookfield abierto!' | Daniel Figueroa / People's World

OAKLAND, Calif.—Students, teachers, parents, community members, and local activist leaders are stepping up their struggle to stop school closures and mergers in this city, which are largely affecting Black and Brown students and families.

A crowd of nearly 200 rallied at International Blvd. and 66th Ave. on the morning of March 5, on what had been the campus of the now-closed Roots International Academy middle school, to make a simple demand of the Oakland Unified School District’s Board of Directors: Stop the closures and defend communities of color.

They then marched two miles to Cesar Chavez Soccer Field where another rally was held.

Last month, OUSD board Directors Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams stood with the community and voted to postpone this year’s closures and mergers. But Directors Aimee Eng, Clifford Thompson, and board President Gary Yee voted to proceed with the closures. Director Sam Davis abstained, and Director Shanthi Gonzales did not attend the meeting.

Indigenous activists in front of the now-closed Roots International Academy middle school. | Daniel Figueroa / People’s World

Those calling for the schools to stay open say this makes their stance against the community of Oakland quite clear, and School Board Directors who refuse to stand with the community must be replaced by people who will.

Advocates of school closures claim there isn’t money in the budget, but the Oakland City Council is considering approving a baseball stadium complex that will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars. The State of California has, at the very least, a $45 billion surplus, leading opponents of closures to say there is no financial reason any school in California must be closed.

Addressing the crowd at the first rally, Jason Wins, a teacher at nearby Markham Elementary, spoke of the need for quality schools in every neighborhood.

“No elementary school student should have to cross these busy streets just to get to their closest school. What could be more violent?” He added that students at Community Day School—the district’s only school to provide a second chance for students expelled from other schools—will now have to travel 17 miles to a school in Hayward to meet their needs.

Wins went on to explain how the impending closures are connected to the bigger picture. “What kind of society tells our children, working-class children, that they must sacrifice while the obscenely wealthy have never been wealthier?”

Noting that the world’s ten richest people have doubled their wealth in the past two years, he added, “At what point do we ask ourselves, ‘How do we continue to fund their profits, how do we continue to fund their wealth at the expense of our lives?’ I would argue that we are standing here at a crime scene; we are witnessing a massive theft taking place in our communities. If we are the source of their profits, we should be the ones deciding whether or not to close schools.”

After the march, OUSD board Director Mike Hutchinson told the crowd at the soccer field, “We need to be immediately organized to fight the closures of three schools at the end of this school year.”

Noting that families are already being told they must enroll in another school immediately, with no options available to them, he added, “We also have to make sure the rest of the schools on the list aren’t under threat of closure next school year. We do that by organizing, getting the word out, and standing strong.”

Hutchinson also said upcoming elections could give the community control of the school district. The first is on June 7, when Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe faces an opponent in the nonpartisan primary. Monroe has threatened to impose closures this year, despite living in Oakland and being a former educator.

Teachers rally to save Horace Mann school. | Daniel Figueroa / People’s World

Hutchinson continued, “We have three school board seats up for election in November. In 2020, when four incumbent school board directors left office and did not run for reelection, we drove them outta here. This year the same thing is happening with these three incumbents. Gary Yee, Aimee Eng, and Shanthi Gonzales are not running for reelection. That’s why as lame duck school board directors they are trying to impose school board closures one last time.”

Emphasizing that the board directors must be replaced by people who still stand with the community, Hutchinson concluded, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel as long as we organize and as long as we fight.”

SEIU Local 1021’s Brandon Dawkins called on California’s governor: “Gavin Newsom, you have the power right now to put a moratorium on school closures, you have the power right now to stop this problem and fix the mess schools in Oakland and California are in. A lot of us knocked on doors for you, a lot of us collected money for you, a lot of us collected signatures for you. It’s time you return that favor.”

City Councilmembers Sheng Thao and Carroll Fife, Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown, and student Board Director Samantha Pal joined with members of the ILWU, SEIU, and Black Organizing Project in showing their support for the community.


Daniel Figueroa
Daniel Figueroa

Daniel Figueroa writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. Daniel Figueroa escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco.