California DOJ probes Oakland school district over closures, potential civil rights violations

The California Department of Justice is probing the Oakland Unified School District over potential violations of student's civil rights, amid school closures and mergers.

The district has already shuttered two schools and is set to close at least five others by the end of next school year. Additionally, a few others are being merged or consolidated due to declining enrollment and a budget shortfall, school officials said. 

Since the announcement this spring, there have been many protests, sit-ins and rallies to stop the closures.

Many parents and teachers have long said that the district has targeted schools in low income communities and communities of color.

"OUSD is redlining one of the most vulnerable populations in their district," parent Tiana Scott said. "They are putting financial decisions over the social, emotional needs of the students they claim to care about."

Scott’s children attend Carl B. Munck Elementary, a school on the chopping block at the end of the school year.

She’s set to speak with investigators with the California Attorney General’s Office after getting a notice asking for information about experiences with the process of school mergers, consolidations and closures.

"I would hope the school board would take heed that the state is questioning your decision-making ability," Scott said. "I think it is totally appropriate."

The letter says the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice is on a fact-finding mission over potential children’s civil rights violations, including the right to equal access to education and educational opportunity.

OUSD responded to KTVU in a statement that said, "Any questions about AG activities should be directed to the AG. The District does not comment on or confirm any possible legal matters."

The Oakland Education Association applauded the move by the Attorney General’s Office. It was just one of several groups that filed a complaint alleging discrimination with closures disproportionally affecting communities of color.

"It is a civil rights issues," OEA President Keith Brown said. "We do take it seriously and it is a strong sign that the issues that have been raised by parents in the community have merit."

Carl Pezold’s been fighting for his 8-year-old son, Max, who’s in the special education program at Carl B. Munck Elementary.

Pezold accuses the district of lacking transparency and involvement of parents and community members in the process beginning well before the closures were announced.

"What the school district’s doing is pretty serious. It is discriminatory in nature," he said. "There are certain groups that are going to feel the pain worse than others -- students of color and the disabled."

The Attorney General’s Office told KTVU it is gathering information but could not comment on a potential or ongoing investigation.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU