In one East Oakland neighborhood, school isn’t out for summer. Fifteen days after public education advocates started a sit-in on the nearly 100 year-old campus of Parker K-8 school, classes are back in session for a second week.
In February, the Oakland Unified School Board voted to permanently close or truncate three schools this year and six more next year. Parker K-8 was one of those schools slated for closure. In protest of that decision, dozens of students, parents, and public school advocates refused to leave Parker K-8 after the last day of the official school year on May 25, and have been engaged in an around-the-clock “liberation” of the campus ever since. The activists have renamed the site “Parker Community School.”
“If the district won’t do right by our kids, then we’re going to pull together as a community and use that blueprint of self determination and do right by our kids ourselves,” Parker parent Azlinah Tambu told Oakland Voices. Tambu is one of the parents’ whose children attended Parker, and one of the organizers of the protest school.
Since last Tuesday, classes have been taught from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, on the campus. The free classes are being taught by certified educators. The curriculum includes gardening, producing and providing sustainable meals, science, math, creative writing, chess, art, and physical education. The idea is a free summer program for local children.
The Parker Community School activists have also organized food giveaways along MacArthur Boulevard in the resource-needy neighborhood.
A decade ago, a similar occupation occurred when the district closed down Lakeview Elementary in 2012. The Lakeview sit-in lasted for two and a half weeks before police evicted the activists during an early morning raid.
“Serious Safety Concerns”
In response to the sit-in, the district has posted signs on the campus on two different occasions calling the direct action “illegal,” and has characterized the situation as dangerous.
District Spokesperson John Sasaki told NBC Bay Area that he had “serious safety concerns” about continued activities on the campus, specifically citing safety hazards within the building, such as piles of supplies and equipment lining the hallways, and an alleged lack of background checks for the volunteer teachers.
Tambu, who has two children participating in the protest school, responded to those allegations by saying that the safety hazards were present in the building since before the occupation started, and the teachers at Parker Community School had already passed background checks by the district since they are OUSD teachers.
Another Parker Community School activist told Oakland Voices that district staff had come by over the weekend and complained about children roller skating on the playground without proper safety equipment.
Tambu also says that she and the other Parker parents have serious concerns about the safety of the neighborhoods that their children will now have to travel through in order to attend a different school in a different neighborhood.
She points out that Parker was the only K-8 in that part of East Oakland, and most of the Parker students walked to school. For the 2022-2023 school year, Tambu says that her kids have been assigned to two different schools since one is in middle school and one is in elementary school. The middle school that her oldest child has been assigned to is 1.6 miles away from Parker.
In that particular stretch and area of East Oakland, there are indeed many hazards to navigate while getting to and from schools that are further away. There are dogs running loose in the streets, some of whom are less friendly than others. Too many drivers have a loose relationship with traffic laws. Human trafficking occurs in these streets, and gunfire is so ubiquitous out here that street signs, and even fences and gates in residents’ front yards, will have bullet holes in them.
Parker Community School Organizers Issue Demands
During a press conference held on the morning of June 6, Parker Community School organizers announced their demands that the OUSD Board reverse its decisions to close Parker and truncate La Escuelita this year, and that the Board direct Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell create a plan to provide a safe, in-person learning program in Oakland for the students who would have otherwise been assigned to Community Day School.
There was an OUSD School Board meeting on June 8, and Parker Community School organizers, including the students, presented their demands to the Board during a chaotic public comment period. Parker parent Rochelle Jenkins had stated that the activists will not vacate the campus until after the board votes to agree to their demands, but the Board did not discuss the activists’ demands.
Tambu says that the protest has already enjoyed support from throughout the Oakland community, but welcomes whatever additional support they can get. After a community kickoff celebration on May 28, Parker Community School activists held a neighborhood Warriors game watch party, a community assembly, and a Family Skate Day. The sit-in has received an anonymous one-time $10,000 online donation to support the continuation of the protest.
The Parker Community School sit-in is also being supported by Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP), a new coalition of community and labor activists that previously organized a day of action on April 29 that closed schools and the Port of Oakland.
SLAP is also organizing opposition to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC)’s plan to remove the Howard Terminal’s Port Priority Use designation to make way for private real estate development at the Port, and had a strong showing of commenters during the last BCDC board meeting on June 2.
No Fiscal Crisis
While the risk of fiscal insolvency was a justification used by the Board when it voted to close schools in February, district staff presented the Third Interim Financial Report during a Special Board meeting on June 1. According to that report, revenue is expected to surpass expenditures by over $111 million this year, and budget surpluses are projected over the next two years. In fact, the district’s Fiscal Year 2022 fund balance is projected to be $15 million higher than the original projection.
During a press conference held on the day the sit-in started, Jenkins chastised district leadership saying, “Shame on you, OUSD, because instead of these kids walking across the stage at their graduation with smiles on their faces, they came and they walked across that stage with tears in their eyes.”
“Teachers, students, parents…with heavy hearts and tears in their eyes because OUSD Board members told us that this is the end for them and this is the end for our community,” Jenkins added.
A Sense of Camaraderie and Mutual Aid
When Oakland Voices visited Parker Community School on the first day of classes last week, students in an art class were envisioning what their ideal school would look like. In that art class were 12 students, mostly Black children, and at least two adult teachers.
“I’m here supporting no school closures because my little sisters go to this school and I also graduated from this school,” said Jayvien Bolden, a high schooler who helps teach roller skating class in the afternoons. “It’s not just for my sisters, but also the other kids in the community.”
School supplies and equipment were stacked along the walls in the hallways. Passing by the school kitchen, there were a few boxes of fresh produce, and the sound of water being used to wash either food or dishes.
In the gymnasium/theater, several mattresses were scattered around the room, and more supplies and equipment was grouped along one wall. At the Warriors game watch party, about 30 adults and about 15 children seemed to enjoy each others’ company more than the game itself. There were hamburgers and Impossible burgers and a palatable sense of camaraderie. The children were all playing together and seemed to be having a great time.
During the game, a woman from the neighborhood pulled up in a minivan and donated a box of fresh oranges and apples.