OAKLAND – Today, the ACLU of Northern California filed a complaint with the California Department of Justice urging Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate the Oakland Unified School District’s racially discriminatory school closure plan, which disproportionately impacts Black students and families.
At four of the seven schools slated to close, more than half the students enrolled are Black. Districtwide, Black children comprise about a fifth of the student population.
“Oakland Unified School District has a long history of discriminating against Black students and families who have borne the brunt of previous school closures,” said Linnea Nelson, a senior staff attorney for the Racial & Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California. “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.”
Despite strong community opposition, in February the school board voted to close seven schools, merge another two, and eliminate middle school grades at two others by 2023.
OUSD failed to analyze the racial equity of closing the selected schools, as required by a provision of the “Reparations for Black Students Resolution” the school board adopted in March 2021. Furthermore, district staff did not consult with students, parents, teachers, or community leaders while they developed the closure plan, a process that was shrouded in secrecy.
The ACLU filed the complaint on behalf of Justice for Oakland Students Coalition, a multi-racial group of students, parents and educators working to increase equity for low-income students of color in the school district. The complaint alleges that the school closure plan violates Black students’ fundamental right to equal educational opportunity under the California Constitution and discriminates based on race.
Among other remedies, the complaint seeks to overturn the school closure plan, and require that the district conduct an equity analysis to guide any future decisions to close schools.
The school closures are the latest blow to Oakland’s declining Black population, which has been pushed out of the city by gentrification, skyrocketing housing costs and increasing income inequality. From 2010 to 2020, more than 15,000 Black people left Oakland, according to U.S. Census data. As a result, Black residents have seen their once prodigious political influence wane in the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, making it difficult to challenge racist public policies.
Black parents worry their children may struggle academically and emotionally if they are uprooted from the small schools where teachers know and care about them.
Azlinah Tambu’s daughters, Nasirah and Samira, attend Parker Elementary School, which will close at the end of the current school year. Tambu feels her children are safer at a smaller school, and that 11-year-old Samira has the support she needs within Parker’s tight-knit and familiar community as she enters her middle school years. Tambu’s daughters have a special connection with the mostly Black staff, who make students feel seen, heard, and special. If Parker closes, her daughters will attend separate schools that are farther away from home.
“Samira and Nasirah will be ripped away from the friends and school staff who know them. Especially for Samira, she is at the age she needs her friends and adults who know her to make good choices and stay on track in school,” Tambu said.
Rochelle Jenkins holds two jobs. Because she starts work at 6 a.m., Jenkins relies on her teenage son to walk her 12-year-old twin daughters, Zoraya and Zariah, to Parker Elementary School. The family moved from Fresno to East Oakland four years ago, and the transition was difficult for the twins. They found friends, a supportive environment and Black role models at Parker, where they participated in two afterschool programs that increased their confidence as students. Jenkins sees the school closures as part of a troubling pattern of anti-Black racism in the district.
"The school district is trying to push Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline. They don't care about educating our kids. They should be ashamed of themselves," Jenkins said.
Read the complaint here.