Sitting in to save our schools

June 19, 2012

Jessie Muldoon, a member of the Oakland Education Association, reports on a new protest in the struggle against the plan to close public elementary schools.

A SIT-IN by teachers, parents and activists at Lakeview Elementary, an Oakland, Calif., public school slated for closure, was in its third day on Monday, June 18--but police were threatening to move people out later in the day, as this article was being written.

The sit-in began Friday night as a show of defiance against the threatened closure of Lakeview and four other public elementary schools in Oakland.

Last fall, the Oakland Unified School District announced plans to close dozens of schools over the next several years, starting with five neighborhood elementary schools, all of which serve Oakland's poor and working class communities of color. The closures will limit families' access to nearby schools, displace more than 1,000 students and relocate hundreds of teachers and school employees.

Saving money is the district's top priority, even when there is no educational benefit to their plans. For example, as one Lakeview parent, Joel Velasquez told the crowd as the sit-in kicked off on June 15, the district will have to build portables at existing schools in order to absorb the displaced students. Portables are not only expensive, but they will encroach on ever-shrinking open spaces like playgrounds and schoolyards.

A banner hangs outside the sit-in at Lakeview Elementary in Oakland
A banner hangs outside the sit-in at Lakeview Elementary in Oakland (Jessie Muldoon | SW)

Plus, two of the closed schools are likely to be converted to charters, one will be used for offices, and another is to be leased to a neighboring city. The issue of charters is a primary concern for the Oakland Education Association and the community at large. The school closures are seen as a back door for charter companies to gain an even stronger foothold in Oakland.

Teachers are angry about the chaos caused by the closure plans and the district's rampant disrespect for their work. Lakeview teacher Pam Chinn-Scoffern, who has taught at the school for 25 years, says she will retire, rather than be relocated.

The sit-in at Lakeview isn't only about a single school or the single issue of school closures. Participants want to draw attention to the broader crisis in education, the charterization of our schools, and the overall disservice that the Oakland Unified School District is doing to working class and poor students and families in Oakland.

One of the goals of the sit-in is to open a free social justice summer camp for Oakland students who are now on summer vacation. The mission of the summer camp is to involve families in the struggle and teach young children about social justice, while providing a fun and educational free summer program. The school is currently operating inside of occupied Lakeview.

On Monday, the Oakland School Police issued eviction orders and were expected to try to remove the protesters from Lakeview sometime that day. Many protesters felt that the police were hoping the sit-in would shrink away on its own, but it has garnered a lot of community support and remains well-attended. Daily press conferences and rallies have helped maintain momentum and build awareness.

The Lakeview sit-in is a small indicator of the continuing anger that people have against the deep cuts to public services--and a continuation of the spirit of the Occupy movement that began last fall.

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