A teachers' union led a one-day strike in Oakland, California, on Friday to protest what they say are unfair labor practices over school closures within the Oakland Unified School District.
The school district blames low attendance and financial woes for its decision to close several schools in the city. The Oakland Education Association says the OUSD decision violates a 2019 agreement from a previous teacher strike to give adequate notice before closures and allow time for community impact assessments.
Parents and students who will be impacted by the closures joined teachers on the picket lines around the city’s public schools before gathering at a block party rally to voice concerns over the closures' disproportionate impact on minority students.
The school district told ABC News in a statement Friday that most students stayed home during the strike.
"While most students across the District stayed home today with excused absences, some did come to school. Our focus right now is ensuring that they are having a positive experience on campus," the statement said.
Earlier this week, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell condemned the plans for the protest in a letter to OEA union teachers. Johnson-Trammell said the strike will cause further damage to the district's already-strained budget.
"More importantly, the impact on students would be significant. In light of the lost instruction due to the pandemic, OEA and OUSD worked hard together to ensure that in-person instruction was the norm for this school year. Even the threat of again depriving students of instruction, let alone an actual deprivation, especially without legal justification, will only further hurt students. It is also worth noting that a one-day strike would hurt the District financially," Johnson-Trammell said in the letter.
The district says no such agreement on school closures exists as the union alleged.
"As for the statement that the District previously bargained the issue of school consolidations as part of the negotiations to end the February 2019 strike, it is demonstrably untrue: The list of negotiated items, as delineated in the fact finding report, leading up to the 2019 strike does not include school consolidations," Johnson-Trammell said in the letter.
Jennifer Brouhard, a teacher at La Escuelita Elementary School, slammed the superintendent’s criticism that the strike will hurt the school district.
“When I hear the superintendent say this strike hurts the students, it hurts those students to be kicked out of their school," Brouhard told ABC News. "It hurts those students to be sent to another school for a year or two. It hurts those fifth graders who all filled out their applications to go to La Escuelita, only to be notified after the enrollment period ends that the school is closing. When I got that letter from the superintendent, I wanted to say ‘no, you talk to these kids about who's hurt, and who hurt them.’”
Brouhard said she believes the students in low-income areas of the school district have been disregarded.
“I don't think the district values black and brown families. I don't think they value these communities. This isn't the first time school closures have happened in the same kind of community…You have to look at the cost of the community and I think if you’re just shuffling these kids around, it’s really saying that they don't matter,” Brouhard said.
“I think the feeling is that people in these communities won't fight back, but the district was met with a lot of resistance this time," she added.
Teachers and parents who participated in the protest told ABC News the closures will pose a safety concern for some young, low-income students who may have to walk long distances to school.
Corin Haskell, a science teacher at Brookfield Elementary, said the school’s closure, which is slated to happen next year, will disrupt the surrounding community.
“This community is really tight-knit. Brookfield School is really a generational school. I’ve taught for over 25 years. I teach the children of my early students from when I first came there. This school has been a solid point in the community for a long time, “ Haskell told ABC News. “I'm not worried about having a job. I know I can teach anywhere. It's about this work that we've done in this community for so long in this school and the fact that it's been there for generations. They're just going to wipe it away.”
The ACLU on April 11 filed a complaint with California Attorney General’s office calling for an investigation into the closures.
“Oakland Unified School District has a long history of discriminating against Black students and families who have borne the brunt of previous school closures,” Linnea Nelson, a senior staff attorney for the Racial & Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. “By chronically underfunding and mismanaging small schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods, the district created the very conditions it now cites to justify disrupting tight-knit school communities and displacing hundreds of Black students.”
The school district told ABC News in response to the ACLU's charge that decisions to consolidate schools are "difficult, but may be necessary."
"The State of California has identified school consolidations as one area the District needs to focus on to improve its long-term fiscal health," OUSD said. "Alameda County recently noted that the District's improved financial position results partially from school consolidations. The schools to consolidate were selected based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, low enrollment. OUSD is investing some of its newly available funding to better support students, prioritizing Black students in many areas. The District has been, and continues to be, focused on addressing inequities that exist in student outcomes, and must make ongoing funding adjustments to do so."