The American Civil Liberties Union has now filed a complaint with the California Department of Justice urging the attorney general to look in to the Oakland Unified School District's plan to close seven schools and merge two others next year, saying the plan disproportionately impacts Black families.
Oakland's school board voted in February to fully close seven schools, merge two other schools, and eliminate middle school grades at two others by next year in a cost-cutting measure. Much like the San Francisco Unified School District, Oakland Unified is facing extreme budget pressure due to declining enrollment, which in turn comes with declining funding from the state. Protests followed, but a week later the school board took another vote and decided not to delay the closures.
The ACLU is saying hold up, though, because four of the seven schools slated for closure serve predominantly Black student populations. And this is notable especially when Black children only represent about 20% of the student population across the district.
"Oakland Unified School District has a long history of discriminating against Black students and families who have borne the brunt of previous school closures,” said Linnea Nelson, a senior staff attorney for the Racial & Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California in a Monday statement. “By chronically underfunding and mismanaging small schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods, the district created the very conditions it now cites to justify disrupting tight-knit school communities and displacing hundreds of Black students."
In seeking an investigation by Attorney General Rob Bonta, the ACLU contends that OUSD "failed to analyze the racial equity of closing the selected schools, as required by a provision of the 'Reparations for Black Students Resolution' the school board adopted in March 2021."
The ACLU points to the issue of the Black community's waning political influence in Oakland, "in the birthplace of the Black Panther Party," which "mak[es] it difficult to challenge racist public policies." And this is due in part to a loss of 15,000 Black residents in the last decade, according to the 2020 Census.
Black members make up one-third of the current Oakland school board.
"The school district is trying to push Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline," says Rochelle Jenkins, a mother of 12-year-old twin daughters who attend Parker Elementary, a school in East Oakland that is slated for closure. "They don't care about educating our kids. They should be ashamed of themselves."
Jenkins, who works two jobs, says that she relies on having a school close to her house so her teenage son can walk the twins to and from school.
Azlinah Tambu tells the ACLU that she values the mostly Black staff at Parker, with whom her daughters, Nasirah and Samira, have formed special connections. She says she feels safer having her kids at a small school close to home, and if Parker closes, her daughters will be separated at two different schools farther away.
The protests over these school closures have been large and intense, and have included a weeks-long hunger strike.
The district says it has to cut $110 million, and its current school-closure plan is the best way to do so.
"OUSD is investing some of its newly available funding to better support students, prioritizing Black students in many areas,” the district said in a Monday statement, per the Chronicle. “The District has been, and continues to be, focused on addressing inequities that exist in student outcomes, and must make ongoing funding adjustments to do so.”
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