Oakland school board votes to close Roots International Academy by end of school year

By a 6-1 vote Monday night, the Oakland School Board voted to close an embattled middle school, angering students, staff, and parents.

"I have a seventh grader who will have no place to go next year because he has not been given a seat," mother Addy Rios told KTVU tearfully, "and no one has contacted me, no one has talked to me, I don't know where my child is going to go to school." 

Roots International Academy in East Oakland is plagued by low enrollment and low test scores. 

It is the first of possibly two dozen Oakland public schools that will be closed or combined in coming years, to close a $30 million budget shortfall.

"It's been an incredibly difficult and emotional process," School Board President Aimee Eng told KTVU after the vote, which left critics shouting "recall" as directors left the room. 

"There have been a lot of tears that have been shed," continued Eng, "and I have sat with students and community members, and the dedicated teachers and administrators, so absolutely it is a painful process."  

Director Roseanne Torres was the lone dissenting vote. 

"Roots gave me hope when there wasn't any at all, there was nothing," said one student during a public comment period that stretched more than two hours. 

"We're like a family, and we stick together, and you're all basically separating us," said another student. 
Roots shares its campus with Coliseum College Prep Academy, which serves grade 6-12, and performs better academically. 

The district plans to expand CCPA, but not in time for all of the 163 Roots students who will need placement next year. 

So they will have to be placed elsewhere in Oakland, given preferential choice, and with counselors to guide them. 

"I want your child to walk down International Boulevard at 6 p.m. by herself and then tell me, this is a good idea," exclaimed Roots teacher Rose Chardak. "They tell me how scared they are to walk three blocks from home to our school and now you're asking them to walk 32 blocks?"

The school superintendent insists school closures are the only way to use resources responsibly, and improve outcomes for all students. 

"I deeply love this community and want better for our kids growing up in this city," said Kyla Johnson- Trammell before the vote. 

"I recognize we are going through some really challenging times with some really tough choices ahead of us."

Midway through the meeting, protest chants erupted, bringing a halt to the public comment, and prompting the board to walk off the stage and take a break. 

At a meeting last week to discuss the closure plan, an even larger group of protesters did not allow the meeting to start until board members participated in a "restorative justice" circle for more than two hours. 

"I'm hearing the pain, the hurt, the concern of our Roots students and families," said staffer Yvette Renteria, the Deputy Chief of Innovation for the school district. 

"But as we acknowledge these stories, we also understand our responsibility to providing quality education at all of our schools." 

Some of the more passionate pleas came from Roots educators. 

"I know that our teachers love our students," declared Roots College Adviser James Riley, "and I am hard pressed to believe any other school would love our students the way we love ours." 

The school board is considering reduced services and staff layoffs, and those cuts were scheduled for a vote Wednesday evening, but it has been postponed until later in the week, or next week, to allow more preparation. 

Facing a district wide, $30 million budget deficit, Roots is the first of a possible two dozen schools to close in the coming years.