• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

‘We have the power’: Oakland activists camp at school to prevent closure

ByDebra J. Aguilar

May 28, 2022

The school’s current recovery comes after multiple attempts by those opposed to school closures to get the district to reverse its course, including staging repeated protests at school board meetings, a hunger strike led by two teachers and a one-day district-wide teachers’ strike last month. .

“If you don’t want to keep the doors open, then we people in the community want to keep the doors open,” said Rochelle Jenkins, the mother of two daughters who are currently dating Parker. “When we see a broken system and it’s impacting our children and their education, we need to stand up and fix it.”

Rochelle Jenkins, her son Javien Bolden, 15, a Parker graduate, and her daughters Zariah, 12, and Zoraya, 6, Parker students, pose outside the school, May 26, 2022. (Julia McEvoy/KQED News)

Two dozen women and children have slept inside the school in recent evenings, while others slept outside in tents to keep them safe, Killings said.

“We have people inside and there are also people watching outside,” he said. “There will be plenty of support people outside to make sure that when the police come everyone is safe.”

On Thursday, the school district sent its director of governance, Josh R. Daniels, to personally deliver a letter to those camping inside the school. He said they were there illegally and trespassed. Cross refused to open the letter.

“What Josh just told us is what the district is not going to do is send in force because they now know there are women and children there. We hear it, but we’re not going to trust it,” Cross said.

In a statement, the district said it recognizes some were upset with Parker’s closure, but the vast majority of Parker students and staff agreed to be placed at other schools. He asked those who slept and held classes inside the school to “choose another way of protesting – one that doesn’t disrupt normal staff end-of-year procedures and the need to close the school.” ‘year”.

Killings and others have pointed to the irony of the district’s community schools closing at a time when the state is investing heavily in them. In the first round of state grants to districts last month, Oakland Unified received the largest grant of the funding round with $66.7 million. Some of the schools on the district’s closure list for next year are district-designated community schools.

Killings said around 65 people are now involved in a rotation of shifts to occupy the school, as part of a wider release strategy.

“The community is waking up and the concern is quite high around this issue,” Killings said.

Timothy Killings, a social worker with OUSD, said 65 people are now on rotation to stay inside the school to keep it open. (Julia McEvoy. KQED News)

One of those sleeping inside the school is Misty Cross of the activist group Moms 4 Housing and co-founder of West Oakland Moms for Housing.

“We definitely use all of our expertise. We have people who have taken care of the Oscar Grant movement. It’s going to be strategic and structured around the needs of the community,” said Cross, who occupied a vacant home in West Oakland with a group of moms in 2020, drawing attention to the housing shortage in the Bay Area and the homelessness crisis.

“I think adults should fight for kids until they can fight for themselves,” Cross said. “We can’t keep trying to save a culture that was built to fail us. Now we have to create a new one too, where it works with us.

The plan beginning Monday is also an echo of the work done by Oakland’s Black Panther Party in the 1960s to nurture and educate black children, Cross said.

Cross stood in the school hallway as the children roller-skated and played the piano behind her in the auditorium. Blue mattresses have been laid out on the floor along with sheets and blankets. Cross slept inside the school Thursday night.

Outside Parker Elementary, Killings met curious neighbors explaining the idea behind the community school model they plan to roll out in the coming weeks.

Former Oakland City Councilwoman Delsey Brooks also drove by asking what the group needed. “I support what is happening. Even before I ran for mayor, I renovated the library at this school,” Brooks explained. She promised to bring water and juice to school.

This is not the first time members of the Oakland community have occupied a school trying to keep it open. In 2011, when the district voted to close Lakeview School, activists also occupied the building for 17 days before being evicted by police.