The Oakland Unified School District board voted to close seven public schools over the next two years in a decision widely protested by the community.
Following hours of debate and outraged public comments in the school board meeting Tuesday night, board members decided in a narrow vote — with three against, four in favor and two abstaining — to close two schools this year and five more next year, and to merge two other schools.
Oakland’s school district serves nearly 35,000 students, most of whom are Black and Latinx.
The decision came after days of protests by community members. At least two teachers and several students went on hunger strikes to protest the planned closures, and one teacher was hospitalized as a result.
Board members who voted for the closures pointed to declining enrollment and budget deficits, saying the district didn’t have the financial means to keep the schools open.
“When you close my school, I feel like you close my house,” said one student during the public comments at Tuesday night’s meeting, according to Oaklandside reporter Ashley McBride.
A student member of the school board, Natalie Gallegos Chavez (who voted against the closures but whose vote doesn’t count as a student) protested that the other board members were “not taking us into consideration.”
“Instead of investing time to close down schools that serve majority Black and brown students, invest your time to build community and to empower students,” said the other student board member, Samantha Pal. “This is a school district and not a business. Don’t treat our young people as if they’re nothing to you.”
The community outcry was successful in limiting the closures somewhat, saving at least one school from planned closure this year.
After the closures were announced, Quinta Brunson, creator of the hit show “Abbott Elementary,” said in a tweet: “We need to pay teachers more and NOT permanently close public schools to make room for gentrifiers.”
Over the past 15 years, 16 majority Black and Latinx schools have been closed in the district, reported KPIX-TV, a local CBS affiliate.