Oaklanders continue to rise up against school closures imposed by the Oakland Unified School District. Teachers, parents, students and other members of the community have taken a bold step by beginning an occupation of Parker School on May 25, its official closing date and the last day of the school year. They demand that children from their predominantly black and brown communities have access to the same education as children from privileged communities.
“We won’t move until our voices are heard,” said Rochelle Jenkins, a relative of Parker who is one of the organizers. “We will stay until they reverse their decision to close our schools.” She is adamant that “every child has the right [an education]and they [OUSD] do not have the right to remove it.
“To resist this decision and in an effort to take a stand, to keep our community ours, we decided to take the school back to ourselves,” says Azlinah Tambu, another Parker parent. (tinyurl.com/bdfn5dju)
Teachers and parents have transformed their occupation into a community school. The students learned about gardening by planting tomatoes. They worked together to write their own stories. Some students learned about the importance and social functions of different metals and machines. Of course, they have time to play; they can exercise their minds with chess lessons and their bodies with classic games like Double Dutch.
OUSD has decided to close three schools this year. Up to 11 schools will be affected by the restructuring plan by the end of the next school year. OUSD says the closures will allow it to cover a large budget shortfall. However, parents of Parker students are unhappy with the lack of transparency in the school board‘s financial statements.
Education under attack
This restructuring plan is part of a larger trend over the past 20 years that has seen less funding for public schools and the growth of private charter schools. With no education background, billionaires like Bill Gates and the Walton family of Walmart supported charter schools as a way to break up teacher unions and put their stamp on the American education system, without any public voice. in charter school operations.
Meanwhile, schools that serve black and brown communities face everything from lack of resources to closures. Affluent communities will not face such penalties, and their schools will likely benefit from the $10 million grant OUSD receives from the State of California for its restructuring program. Additionally, President Joe Biden recently implored states to allocate unused COVID-19 relief funds to policing and the prison state.
In the face of these forces, community members served by Parker School, a school with strong community roots in East Oakland, insist on their fundamental right to have their children educated. They are manned around the clock in shifts, with members taking on food and security duties in addition to running the community school. The occupiers held a celebration on May 28 to gain support from the community at large. They receive donations for items such as tents, sleeping bags, art supplies, food and dishes.
The Parker parents are determined to continue their fight until their demands are met and the school remains open to their community. More resources and up-to-date information on the profession can be found here: linktr.ee/parkerforthepeople.
Photo credit: Nathalie Landry