Oakland schools empty out amid teacher strike as district loses bid with state board to stop labor action

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Hundreds of teachers, students and parents demonstrated at Oakland public schools on Friday in an all-day strike against controversial school closings to save money.

While nearly 80 schools in the district remained open during the labor action, officials said there were not enough substitutes, administrators or other staff to accommodate or ensure the safety of students and therefore urged families to keep their children home for the day.

While other union workers in the district were not directly participating in the strike, many were also expected to be absent on Friday, with their union leaders advising them to inform supervisors that they would not feel safe given the picket lines.

The strike is just the latest challenge for Oakland Unified. It comes months after teachers in Oakland planned a “work stoppage” during January’s Omicron wave, prompting the district to cancel classes and angering some families. It also comes two years after schools were closed due to the pandemic, forcing families in Oakland to endure one of the longest school closures in the nation.

Oakland Unified said in a statement that a state board denied the district’s efforts to obtain an injunction to stop the one-day strike. Spokesman John Sasaki said while the district is “disappointed” with the decision, it “will continue to put the needs of the children first and do what it thinks is best for them.”

On Friday morning, about 20 students and teachers marched past Oakland Technical High School just after 8 a.m., carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho ho, school closures have to go.”

The high school of 2,000 students was otherwise quiet.

Junior Satya Zamudio paused on his walk with friends to talk about his opposition to closures.

“We are so disappointed with what our district is doing,” she said. “It’s very egregious that the district doesn’t care what we say.”

Kaia Palmquist, also in 11th grade, said her statistics teacher told them about class closures, costs and other ways to save money, such as “turning off the lights at night”.

“OUSD is not meant to be a profitable organization,” she said. “They treat us like a business.”

His statistics teacher, Errico Bachicha, was also on the picket line.

“It makes no sense to affect so many students to save $4 million,” he said. “Among the many things wrong with school closures is how it will disrupt education. There have been enough school closures to know it will make things worse.

Oakland Education Association officials said 75% of the union’s 2,300 educators who took part in the strike vote backed the one-day walkout, though they declined to say how many teachers had submitted a strike vote. ballot.

District officials said the strike was illegal while union leaders argued they were striking over unfair labor practices related to the school board’s decision to close schools without consulting the community.

The school board voted in February to close or merge 11 schools over the next two years, a decision made largely to deal with declining enrollment and overspending by the district, which could leave the district in financial ruin in coming years. The district has lost approximately 15,000 students over the past 20 years.

At the end of this school year, Parker Elementary and Community Day School are scheduled to close, while middle school grades at La Escuelita will be scrapped. Additional closures and mergers would take place next summer.

Hundreds of parents and community members opposed the closures at school board meetings, while two teachers went on an 18-day hunger strike to protest the decision.

Union leaders said they were striking for students and families who would suffer the most from school closures, which disproportionately affect black and brown students.

The ACLU has asked state Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate the shutdown plan, saying the disproportionate impact on black students violates their rights.

At Parker, one of two schools slated for closure this year, parents, teachers and community members picketed the school on Friday before heading down busy MacArthur Boulevard.

Mother LaDecie Riley said she felt so emotional about her kindergarten son’s school closing.

“We chose this one because it’s convenient to where we live,” she said.

“I love the playground,” said her son, Manilin, a kindergartener, who insists on wearing a tie and button-up shirt to school every day.

Nearby, Mary Jeter, 64, stood near the picket line, staring intently at the school she attended as a child.

“It’s sad because it’s a wonderful school,” she said.

Hillary Chen, a full-time substitute assigned to Parker, said many students had parents and grandparents who also attended the school.

“It’s quite sad,” she said. “It’s just a big family school.”

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jilltucker

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