School Closures Will Impact Oakland’s Most Vulnerable Students: Disproportionately Low-income, Special Education, and English Learners

A banner that says "hands off our schools" in bold red letters in front of Oakland City Hall
A rally in front of Oakland’s City Hall to protest school closures. Photo by Tony Daquipa.

Update: On February 9, around 1 a.m., the OUSD school board passed a modified resolution that will close two schools this year: Parker K-8 and Community Day School. Brookfield Elementary, Grass Valley Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Korematsu Discovery Academy, and Horace Mann Elementary will close next year. RISE Community Elementary will merge with New Highland Academy this year. La Escuelita K-8 will be truncated to an elementary school, eliminating grades 6-8, this year. The following year, Hillcrest K-8 will also be truncated.

While the state of California is anticipating a $45.7 billion surplus for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the Oakland Unified School District is planning on closing or disrupting 13 schools at the end of the school year, allegedly due to anticipated budget shortfalls in coming years.

Leading up to tonight’s special school board meeting, when a vote is scheduled to take place on those school disruptions, the Oakland community has been engaging in direct actions every day for the past week. There have been walkouts, rallies at school sites, a rally and march from Frank Ogawa Plaza to OUSD headquarters, a rally at Prescott School, car caravans to school board members’ houses, and a hunger strike at Westlake Middle School that began more than a week ago. According to UpFront on KPFA this morning, hunger striker Moses Omolade, a staff member at Westlake Middle School, has been rushed to a hospital with internal organ complications. 

Some elected officials at City Hall have gotten involved. Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmember Carroll Fife, and President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao announced that they will be introducing a resolution next week that calls on Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Legislature to eliminate OUSD’s outstanding state debt to prevent closures, and to improve state education funding law to remove penalizing schools when children are sick.  

In Resolution No. 2122-0030, which is scheduled to be voted on during tonight’s board meeting, OUSD senior staff say that the district has “long-term financial challenges” that require freeing up “ongoing revenue” to stay solvent. 

Six schools are slated for complete closure by the end of this school year, and an another school’s upper grades will be shut down. Additionally, Westlake Middle School will be moved and merged with West Oakland Middle School, Bunche and Dewey Academies will merge, and RISE Community and New Highland Academy are also being merged. Another four schools are slated for closure, merger, or truncation next school year. 

Oakland Voices looked at the demographics of the schools slated for closure or merger, and we found that the student populations at the schools on the list are disproportionately low-income, with large special education populations, and many serving higher than average English Language Learner students. In addition, the majority of the schools impact flatland communities. Finally, all of the schools on the list this year have majority Black and Latinx student populations.

Tonight’s special School Board meeting, which starts at 5 p.m., will take place to discuss and finalize these decisions. At the last special board meeting called to discuss school closures, the meeting including public comments lasted nine hours, with more than 2,000 people tuning in via Zoom. In an email communication to parents this afternoon, OUSD stated, “The Board will weigh the pros and cons of the plan as presented last Monday, January 31, and they will look at the needs of the District and the needs of students. They could vote on the original plan, they could change it through amendment, or they could reject it outright. The Superintendent and her team are prepared to carry out whatever plan is finalized and approved by the Board.”

Oakland’s Most Vulnerable Children

Based on information shared during Monday’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education meeting, special education students cannot attend small schools and charter schools, especially students with moderate to extensive support needs. Those special education students can only attend traditional OUSD public schools. Special Day Class size is about half that of a general education classroom, which could be a cause of having lower numbers of students enrolled in a school, a reason cited for school closures.

In the wake of the district’s experiment with small schools, the older, traditional schools have higher concentrations of Black, special education, and Newcomers and English Language Learner students. The schools that are being targeted for closure this year seem to fit that description.

Among the 12 schools that are slated for closure or merger by the end of this year, six schools are majority Black and four are majority Latinx, and Westlake Elementary and Dewey Academy are both majority Black and Latinx combined.

Seven of them serve large special education populations, ranging from 14% to 24% of the school population; the district average is 14.2%. All of the schools that will be impacted have majority low-income students, ranging from 70% to 98% (the district average is 72%). 

The district average of English Language Learners is 33%, and five of the impacted schools this year have the same or more than the district’s average of ELL students. Another school, La Escuelita, will lose its 6-8th grades; that school serves a 50% ELL student population.

Eight of 12 schools are located in the East Oakland or West Oakland flatlands. Carl B. Munck, Grass Valley, and Community Day are in the East Oakland hills. Westlake Middle School is near Lake Merritt.

From the district’s presentation for tonight’s meeting, here’s a breakdown of the schools that may close or merge this year, and one school that will lose it’s 6-8th grades (the first six listed are slated for permanent closure):

Grass Valley Elementary has majority Black students, with a sizable Latinx population as well. The student population is 76.2% low-income, 34% special education, and 14% English Language Learners. Grass Valley has the most special education students and the second most Black special education students of any OUSD elementary school. 

Prescott Elementary in West Oakland is a majority Black school that also has a sizable Latinx population as well. 91.4% of the students qualify as low-income, 8% are special education, and 21% are English Language Learners.

Carl B. Munck Elementary is majority non-white (50% Black), 70.6% low-income, 24% special education, and 44% ELL.

Parker Elementary K-8 is majority Black (52%) and Latinx (39%), 92.7% low-income, 11% special education, and 33% ELL.

Brookfield Village Elementary is majority Latinx with a sizable Black population as well. The students are 90.9% low-income, 23% special education, 49% ELL.

Community Day School is majority Black, 76% low-income, and 15% special education.

Westlake Middle School is majority non-white (48% Black, 30% Latinx), 85.3% low-income, 23% special education, and 25% ELL.

Ralph J. Bunche Academy is majority Black (56%) and Latinx (28%), 87.1% low-income, 18% special education, and 13% ELL.

Dewey Academy is majority Black (39%) and Latinx (44%), 89% low-income, 14% special education, 27% ELL.

RISE Community School is majority Latinx, 97.9% low-income, 11% special education, 46% ELL.

New Highland Academy is majority Latinx, 98% low-income, 10% special education, and 65% ELL.

La Escuelita, which will lose grades 6-8, is majority Latinx, 91.4% low income, 8% special education, and 50% ELL.

The schools on the list for 2023 closure are similar: Horace Mann Elementary is majority Latinx, and 48% ELL. Manzanita Community School is majority Latinx, 21% special education, and 52% ELL. Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy is majority Latinx, 18% special education, and 54% ELL. Hillcrest Elementary School is majority white and Asian, 8% special education, 1% ELL. Hillcrest was originally identified on the “draft” list to lose grades 6-8 in 2022, but was given an extra year to prepare for that truncation. 

About Tony Daquipa

Tony Daquipa is a dad, essential bureaucrat, photographer, urban cyclist, union thug, wannabe stonemason, karaoke diva, grumpy old man, storyteller, and preserver of history. View all posts by Tony Daquipa →

One Comment

  1. Brian

    This article would be more impactful if it took a balanced look at the budget challenges the district is facing. If you want folks to direct their frustrations in a productive way, maybe focus on how we can improve the way districts are funded. Leadership is about finding solutions, not presenting problems.

Post a comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*