By: Staff Writer Desiree McSwain
To the community of OUSD, the School Board and Superintendent Johnson-Tramell,
It saddens us to witness our community face turmoil as we grapple with the reality that this school district is persistent in their attempts to push out Black students and families from Oakland public schools and complicit in the gentrification of Oakland. The decision to cherry-pick the few schools that are majority Black (and Brown) on February 8th, and close and truncate those schools, sends a clear message that Black students are not a priority and that their quality and access to education is always in jeopardy of being compromised, even amidst an ongoing pandemic. In a city like Oakland that has been experiencing extreme gentrification and displacement of Black families, not much of anything can be found that is majority Black. In OUSD, Black students make up just 22% of the student population, yet account for 45% of the population that is directly impacted by these closures. When we look at the bigger picture of displacement happening in our city, we must be aware that our schools are not just impacted by this problem, but that they are a part of the overall plan to erase Black Oakland. This is proven by the way in which the district operates in a silo— intentionally hidden from community input– crafting harmful resolutions based on arbitrary criteria that continuously targets Black, Brown, special needs and low-income students.
For years, OUSD has projected it’s budget insecurities onto our community; always scrambling to solve a financial crisis by cutting from the bottom to no avail. As a community organization that has worked here in Oakland for over a decade against racist, criminalizing and overall mistreatment of OUSD’s Black students– we began to make progress, both with the passing of The George Floyd Resolution for Police-Free Schools and standing in solidarity with the passing of Reparations for Black Students. Even on March 24th, 2021 when the Reparations for Black Students resolution was passed-–the Board watered down its spirit, intention and function– by amending the legislation to keep ‘school closures as a budgetary fix’ as an option in the future. As we watch that reality come to fruition before our eyes just a year later, we understand that we are watching the district put privatizers and personal interests before our students, our families, and our communities.
All students deserve to feel safe in our communities. When we speak of safety, this includes safety from the constant threat of closure, displacement or divestment of our schools as well as safety from racist practices that push families out of their schools and into the streets— making young people specifically vulnerable to hyper-criminalization and over-policing. Data has proven that nationally, 68% of Black men without a high school diploma go to prison by the age of 35. However, in California specifically, that percentage skyrockets to 90% of Black men without a highschool diploma who will end up going to prison by the age of 35. Obstruction of access to education can result in a fast track to incarceration just as much as policing on actual school campuses can. The fact that an alternative school like Oakland Community Day School is slated for permanent closure, leaving students the only option of crossing through cities to reach Hayward Community Day or being referred directly to the county for education is an atrocity. For our students who are systems impacted and have been pushed into any cycle of this pipeline by way of suspension, expulsion and/or arrest– alternative schools have become their last stop, their saving grace– before they are ‘permanently’ pushed out. This is where we see a clear line drawn in the sand. Our families and students, primarily Black students and especially our systems-impacted Black students are not valued in OUSD. They are being uprooted, and left to thrive on their own.
At this very moment, both Oakland City Council and California Assemblymembers are advocating for new legislation in the state that will not only eliminate OUSD’s debt but will also prevent the district from any further penalization for student absences. While this is a noble effort to stand in solidarity with the community’s outpour and anger– these are merely bandaids on top of a greater, more complex issue that has been impacting Oakland’s Black residents for decades…
To the district,
We stand with Reparations for Black Students, every other community org, every student, educator/admin and parent who are vehemently opposed to these racist, unjust closings of majority Black and Brown schools. We will not stand by and remain complicit as you tear apart school communities and neighborhoods. We will not allow you to disrespect and disregard the very people who elected you. You have had the choice to hear and work with the community for years and have had ample opportunity to include community voices into the decision making process. You must rectify this wrong and make it right for the community of Oakland or prepare to make your exit. The time is now.
To the beloved community,
Your fight is our fight. We stand strongly by you all and are proud to be part of a collective in Oakland that continuously makes waves of change that ripple throughout the entire nation and set the precedence for others experiencing what we are experiencing in our cities and schools. It is our collective power that puts these officials in position. It is our collective power that pressured the board enough to make them compromise and deduct from their closure list before voting on the final resolution. And it will always be our collective power that will demand change and tear down the systems of oppression to make way for the building of a new, radically transformed reality when demands are not met. Do not let up. Keep the pressure on.
In power and solidarity,
Black Organizing Project