OAKLAND, CA. – The Oakland Unified School District’s emergency board meeting held a vote Friday that rejected a proposed amendment to delay the consolidation plan that closes some of the district’s schools.
Despite earlier optimism, this could have meant the end of an 18-day hunger strike for two educators protesting for children; the vote now confirms that the consolidation plan will pass in June.
The meeting could have delayed the school closure plan adopted less than two weeks ago.
Two board members voted “yes” to delay the consolidation plan, three voted “no” and one director abstained.
The emergency meeting was called following a general backlash against the council’s plan to close or consolidate more than a dozen schools over the next two years. Part of this backlash includes a hunger strike by a teacher and a school administrator.
Even though their schools were spared in the consolidation plan, Maurice André San-Chez, a choir teacher, and Moïse Omolade, a program manager at the school, did not eat anyway, citing solidarity with others. school communities facing closure.
Their cause has been quite visible at Westlake Middle School. On Friday, educators thought it would be their last day to go hungry for their cause. They thought the council would delay the closings.
“It looks like a win,” San-Chez said.
The board called the emergency meeting to amend the recently passed resolution and to delay the consolidation plan until after the 2022-23 school year.
“We end our hunger strike tonight at the end of this meeting? said Omolade, turning to San-Chez. “I don’t want to say yes, but yes,” San-Chez replied with a smile on his face. The two burst into happy laughter.
It remains to be seen whether the first two hunger strikers will continue their protest. But in public comments at the emergency meeting, fresh pledges of solidarity were heard as other teachers, parents and even some pupils said they would start their own hunger strike, starting on Saturday and that they would continue until the council changed its mind.
School board member Mike Hutchinson is one of only two board members who has ever voted against any closures.
“It shows how haphazard these decisions have been and when we’re talking about closing our schools and traumatizing the community, it’s unacceptable that the school board has put this through the community,” Hutchinson said.
“The hunger strike played a very important role. It had everything to do with why they are meeting tonight. Also, the mobilization that we saw throughout the community. If you disturb the children, you disturb with us,” San-Chez said before the vote was taken.
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The district maintains the closures are necessary due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls. They released a statement that read, “Many members of the community have asked the board to consider moving the school consolidations scheduled for the end of this year to the end of next year. The president wants to give the council the opportunity to consider this option.”
“The families didn’t even get a chance to assess or visit the schools. The schedule was so crazy that we have to roll this back,” Hutchinson said.
Many in that school community expected the board to approve the delay.
“I’m really excited to get back to the process of eating good food, belly laughing, running and chasing the kids. It’s been a beautiful journey. A very beautiful journey,” Omolade said.
Those who oppose school closures said they estimate they would have had more than a year to mobilize and will organize to keep all schools open even after next year. But in the end, the amendment was rejected. They will now have to scramble to plan their students’ education projects.
KTVU’s Elissa Harrington contributed to this story.