We Urge OUSD School Board to Slow Down, Listen, and Center The Needs of Black Families and Students

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The Oakland Literacy Coalition’s response to proposed school closures in OUSD

Written by OLC Staff
February 3, 2022

On Monday, January 31, 2022 over 1,800 families, parents, students and community members rallied and shared their concerns and frustrations during a special Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board meeting. During the virtual meeting held via Zoom, OUSD presented recommendations to close, merge, and shrink up to 16 schools starting as soon as the next school year.1 

OUSD states that these closures would alleviate the district’s budget constraints and increase students’ access to high quality schools. The Oakland Literacy Coalition recognizes the need for the District to be financially sustainable. The status quo of racial disparities in students’ literacy outcomes and inequitable access to essential resources, such as libraries, in our schools is unacceptable. However, the disproportionate focus on closing schools with majority Black student enrollment, the rushed timeframe in which the Board is considering this proposal, and the lack of community involvement in this process surfaces equity concerns that are hard to brush aside and ignore.

We commend the efforts and stand in solidarity with the Reparations for Black Students campaign in calling for the OUSD school board to not proceed forward with a final vote before committing to working with the Reparations Task Force to create the racial equity impact analysis.

As a coalition that is in community with families, educators, teachers, literacy providers, and mentors serving kids and youth, the sudden news of the intended school closures is unsettling, painful for all of us, and leaves us with many questions. 

1) Why are majority Black schools being disproportionately impacted?

We are deeply concerned that the majority of the schools listed for closure are schools with majority Black students. Of the students at the eight schools slated for closure this year and next year, about 43% are Black—nearly twice the proportion of Black students in OUSD overall, which is 22%. Five of the 10 OUSD schools with the highest Black student enrollment percentages are at risk of closure.1   

The Citywide Plan adopted by the board in 2018, makes explicit the need to “keep most vulnerable students at the center of all redesign.” Given that school closures and consolidations will inevitably cause disruption, pain, and stress for students involved—with impact and interrupts their learning2priority should be to shield and protect students who our public school system has historically underinvested in and underserved. To that end, we ask why it is that there are not more majority white and majority affluent schools on the list? Why are these schools not being discussed as options when we’re looking at restructuring our school system to support greater equity?

2) Why is it that students, families, educators, and community were not given enough time to fully participate in this process?

We are deeply concerned with the lack of transparency and rushed pace at which this process is moving. After voting in June 20213, to move forward with a continuation of the Citywide Plan to reduce the number of schools in the district through closures and mergers, the Board presented its recommendations on Monday, Jan 31 and is set to vote on the recommendations this coming Tuesday, February 8th.3 A one-week timeline is wholly insufficient for making a decision that impacts so many of our communities and undermines the trust of the families, parents, teachers, and students who we serve and support.  

3) Will these school closures actually solve the budget problems? How does these closures sit within a larger plan for financial management? 

Projections from the school board presentation stated that school closures would result in $4M to $14.7M in savings for a district with a budget of $700M, needing to cut $50M.4  

Before moving forward with a process as disruptive and traumatic as closing more schools, our community deserves time and transparency to understand the larger plan outlining precisely how, to what extent, and over what timeframe school closures will impact the budget and their role in the larger financial management plan. We recognize that difficult decisions and painful trade-offs are needed to ensure financial solvency and that this process is taking place in the larger context of requirements coming down from the county and state. However, community stakeholders deserve adequate time, information, and opportunities to meaningfully participate in co-creating solutions. 

We understand and know that the systematic trend of mass school closures is a racial justice and educational equity issue that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown students particularly those with access to less financial, social, and political capital and privilege. From Chicago and Philadelphia in 2013 to the moment that we find ourselves in now, the prevalence of school closures nationally demonstrates a long running pattern of abandonment and disregard that causes harm for education, health, and economic security. Failing to acknowledge ramifications of policies and decision making that impacts the lives of so many Black families and students is inexcusable.5 We are asking you to slow down.

Call to Action

At the Oakland Literacy Coalition, we believe that centering and practicing an ethic that is anti-racist and brings equity to the forefront is absolutely integral to our mission and ability to make progress as a community and a coalition of literacy providers, educators, and community organizations dedicated to ensuring educational equity and outcomes for Oakland youth. We are fully aware that when it comes to the conversation of literacy within the U.S educational system, it is rooted in a legacy of anti-Black racism and a pattern and practice of discriminatory laws and policies against other communities of color as well. 

At the Oakland Literacy Coalition, we hear and echo the concerns that many are feeling at this moment. We stand in solidarity with the demands shared by the Reparations for Black Students campaign and urge our communities, partners, and coalition:

  1. Follow and support the efforts of the Reparations for Black Students campaign and support their sign on letter. 
  2. Contact your local school board member to slow down the process, asking for more transparency and opportunities for the community to engage.
  3. Attend the upcoming OUSD board meeting on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 where the final vote is supposed to take place. At the time of posting, board meeting has not been posted. Please check back for agenda and zoom link. 

We urge the OUSD school board to truly consider the impact that this decision is having on Oakland’s Black community and not to proceed forward with a final vote before committing to working with the Reparations Task Force to create the racial equity impact analysis.

Sources:

  1. “OUSD plan to close and merge schools is met with overwhelming opposition” The Oaklandside. 02-01-2022. Link to article
  2. “School Closures: A Blunt Instrument” The American Prospect. April 2016 Link to article
  3. “Oakland school closures, mergers, and expansions: here’s how OUSD will decide” The Oaklandside. 06-24-2021. Link to article
  4. “Here’s where Oakland Unified could make $50 million in budget cuts” The Oaklandside. 01-13-2022. Link to article
  5. “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” Ewing, Eve L. 2018 Link to article

Additional Resources:

Jan 24 Board Town Hall 

Jan 31 Special Board Meeting Presentation Slides

 

 

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