'Oakland is a union town!': Teachers walk out over school consolidation plan

There was a strong display of support for Oakland Unified School District teachers who held a one-day strike on Friday in protest of the closure and consolidation of several schools.

The district's plan will impact 11 schools over the next two years and has been approved by the board.

Teachers were joined by parents and students as they marched from the District's headquarters to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, near the city's port.

"This school closure plan was done without any equity analysis, which is something the district has pledged to do," said OUSD parent Elia Shelton. "The school closure plan came out of the blue with very — or really no input from families."

Added Annie Tielman, another parent, "Don't close these schools until you heard us, until you listen to us, until we have time to talk about this. And then the school board just ignored us."

Some teachers and their supporters also gathered at Lake Merritt for a block party and rally. Outside Westlake Middle School's closed doors, there were about two dozen people waving signs and shouting as nearly every passing car honked in support. 

Teachers and others said the plan will disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic students. 

Oakland Unified said the school closures are necessary to deal with a steep budget deficit brought on by a drop in enrollment. 

In a statement to KTVU, the district's chief academic officer said, "In our district, we have been facing declining enrollment for decades... Sustaining many small schools stretches our resources thinly across too many schools, instead of allowing us to invest more deeply in fewer schools."

However, Oakland Education Association, which called Friday an unfair labor practices strike, blames the district for the drops in enrollment and "being underfunded for so many years." 

"OUSD has not honored their agreement coming out of the 2019 strike that there must be at least one-year of community engagement before making any decisions to close schools," OEA President Keith Brown said.  "Let's be clear - educators don't want to strike, but we are because OUSD has forced us to fight to protect the schools our Black and Brown students deserve."

Brown said that on Thursday the California Public Employment Relations Board denied the district's request to stop the strike. District officials previously called the strike illegal. 

"Closing schools hurts students, and it hurts neighborhoods... Especially in Black and brown communities," Princess Moss, vice president of the National Education Association said Friday.

Some suggest using those underutilized school sites for other programs such as Head Start, child development, or trade programs. 

Westlake Middle School choir teacher and Oakland resident Maurice Andre San-Chez, 33, who earlier went on a hunger strike to raise awareness about opposition to the closures, said the divestment from Black and Hispanic communities "is unacceptable."

MORE: Hunger Strike: Extreme measures employed in battle to keep Oakland schools open

Physically, he has recovered from the hunger strike. Mentally though, he said he is still recovering because leaders, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, were saying one thing and doing another.

He said he feels empowered and excited that teachers are building a coalition with other workers including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Service Employees International Union. 

The ILWU has joined the teachers to protest the school district's plan. The coalition of port workers and teachers is called Schools and Labor Against Privatization, or SLAP, which is opposed to the privatization of public resources.

By 1 p.m. a block party took an eight-block march to Oakland City Hall for another rally. Chanting, "Get up! Get down! Oakland is a union town!" protesters took their message directly to those in power. 

Bay City News' Keith Burbank contributed to this story.