August 16, 2022

Education For Live

Masters Of Education

Hunger strikes, protests rock Oakland ahead of vote

5 min read

Thousands of Oakland’s students, parents and teachers have taken to the streets in the last week — and two teachers are on their eighth day of a hunger strike — protesting proposed school closures that would disproportionately affect Black students in low-income neighborhoods.

The Oakland school board will vote Tuesday night on whether to close eight schools around the city. A board meeting Jan. 31 had more than 1,800 Zoom attendees; dozens spoke during the public comment period, which ran well into Tuesday morning. The list of schools was made public less than two weeks ago, a timeline that critics say is far too short to understand the true impact to students and their communities. 

The proposal comes in response to escalating pressure from the state and from Alameda County Office of Education, which has threatened to withhold funds and even seize control of the budget if Oakland fails to reduce annual school spending by $50 million. Critics of the proposed closures say they will cause significant harm to Black students in Oakland, who have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and past school closures. Forty-three percent of students at the schools on the chopping block are Black, compared with 22% of Oakland public school students overall, according to Oaklandside

Left to right: Samantha Sipin, Claire Valderrama, and Jocelyn Deona, all of Gabriela Oakland hold signs calling for a stop to OUSD school closures at the start of the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022.

Left to right: Samantha Sipin, Claire Valderrama, and Jocelyn Deona, all of Gabriela Oakland hold signs calling for a stop to OUSD school closures at the start of the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022.

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

Oakland Unified has struggled with finances for years, both because of falling enrollment and — according to a 2018 grand jury report — because of massive overspending on educational consultants and administrative services. (The district spent over $33 million in the last school year on “consultants” and approved construction on a new central office building estimated to cost $48 million.) While the district receives some of the highest per-student funding in the state, its teachers are paid some of the lowest wages in California. Many schools struggle to afford librarians and janitors

Proponents of the closures point out that Oakland has a higher number of schools per student than similarly-sized districts, and many of Oakland’s schools are under-enrolled, which spreads resources out across many locations. “The toll of gentrification on Oakland is really severe in terms of the number of families that have left,” Sam Davis, vice president and one of seven members of the school board, told SFGATE. “Right now, salaries in Oakland Unified are very low. Our job is to support the adults who support the children.” Davis will likely vote for closures at Tuesday’s meeting.

Prescott Elementary School supporters stand in unison peacefully protesting against OUSD school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Prescott Elementary School supporters stand in unison peacefully protesting against OUSD school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

But opponents of the plan maintain that other budgetary mismanagement is the primary reason for the shortfall. “Very rarely does the district show any outcomes for the money being spent” on consultants, VanCedric Williams, a school board member representing West Oakland, told SFGATE at a protest on Saturday. He plans to vote against the closures. “We’re throwing all this money in a dark hole. That’s the challenge — how do you create a system of accountability?”

At a board meeting last week, the district claimed the school closures will save between $4 and $15 million, though critics point out that a round of closures in 2019 doesn’t seem to have saved any money. Promises to provide transportation and other support to students affected by those earlier closures fell far short of community needs, according to Williams and Oakland parents who spoke with SFGATE.

“Those closures did not give any savings whatsoever, or very negligible savings,” Williams said. “That’s what makes it so shocking that they’re pushing this without any conversation or debate.”

Amir Mohamed, 8, a student at Brookfield Elementary reads aloud his own written words against school closures as his father Mokhtar helps with the microphone, at the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Amir Mohamed, 8, a student at Brookfield Elementary reads aloud his own written words against school closures as his father Mokhtar helps with the microphone, at the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

Like many parents of kids at West Oakland’s Prescott Elementary, one of the schools slated for closure, Tiffany Climens walks her son to school every day. Without a car, and with little public transportation nearby, she’s not sure how she would get her five-year-old son to the next closest elementary school more than a mile away. “This is my community. My child’s father and his parents, they all went to Prescott,” Climens told SFGATE. “Everyone here knows my son. If there’s an emergency, his auntie lives around the corner, and I live two blocks away. As a single worker mom, that’s so important.”


Alicia Simba is a second-year teacher at Prescott, where she teaches “transitional kindergarten” for five-year-olds whose birthdays fall after the cutoff for traditional kindergarten. While she worries about how her students will adjust to changing schools, she’s even more concerned about their parents, many of whom have relied on the school community during pandemic crises. Prescott is part of the wider community, too. The school, which is located in a food desert, has a deal with a grocery delivery company to distribute free boxes of healthy food in the neighborhood, and serves as an election polling place. 

Left to right: Haley Hester, Felisha West, 25 year OUSD teacher Corrin Haskell, and Oakland District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid stand togother against OUSD school closures at the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Feb. 5, 2022.

Left to right: Haley Hester, Felisha West, 25 year OUSD teacher Corrin Haskell, and Oakland District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid stand togother against OUSD school closures at the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk, on Feb. 5, 2022.

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

Simba, who received her master’s degree in education from Stanford two years ago, has struggled to convince classmates and other teacher friends to apply for jobs in Oakland. “It’s hard to tell teachers they should come work in the district, or convince parents to enroll their kids, when the school might close in two years,” she said. “The Oakland community — teachers, parents and staff — are doing the best we can. We’ve worked so hard during the pandemic. This feels like a slap in the face.”

The vote will be held during a special meeting on Tuesday, February 8 at 5 p.m. For more information, including a link to the Zoom, click here

"This is home," said Prescott School Principal Enomwoyi Booker during her address to the crowd against school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

“This is home,” said Prescott School Principal Enomwoyi Booker during her address to the crowd against school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

Zyla Conover, 5, a student at Prescott School speaks out against OUSD school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk with, left to right, her mother Zazzi, young brother Zylan, and father Timothy on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022.

Zyla Conover, 5, a student at Prescott School speaks out against OUSD school closures during the Oakland School Solidarity Rally and 4Peace Community Walk with, left to right, her mother Zazzi, young brother Zylan, and father Timothy on Saturday morning, Feb. 5, 2022.

Kevin Kelleher/Special to SFGATE

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