Supporters of a sit-in at Lakeview elementary school and others protesting cuts from the Oakland Board of Education protested at the board’s meeting June 27 and held a “People’s Board of Education Meeting” discussing their vision for Oakland schools.
Much of the protest focused on cuts to the district’s budget for special education students. The cuts came as the school board faces statewide cuts to public education, the end of a bout of federal stimulus money, and a last-minute budget shortfall.
After passionate public comment, the board reversed their their previous decision to approve $1.7 million in special ed staffing cuts.
The cuts would have eliminated some Program Specialist positions. $2 million in cuts in transportation for special ed students still stand.
This comes weeks after special ed teachers and parents were surprised to learn of proposed cuts to special ed to make up for a budget an accounting error that the board discovered just weeks before the budget deadline.
“The timing of these proposals, the lack of staff and community input and the ever-changing information about the relevant budget numbers make these proposals especially troubling,” Cintya Molina, chair of the Community Advisory Committee for special education and mother of a special-needs second grader, said as part of the meeting’s public comment period.
Special education funding advocates partnered with organizers at the Lakeview School sit-in to show up in force at the board meeting, demonstrating a coalition of Oakland parents and teachers opposed to the cuts to schools in the 2012/2013 budgets.
Lakeview is one of five elementary schools that the board voted to close last fall.
A sit-in protesting Lakeview’s closure began June 15. Parents and teachers have organized a free summer program, the Peoples School for Public Education, on the school grounds. Some parents and teachers also sleep in a handful of tents each night to assure that the sit-in continues.
The decision to engage in civil disobedience came after months of work on the part of a coalition of concerned parents and teachers under the banner Save Oakland Schools.
“I probably spent 20 hours a week meeting, talking, emailing, researching, sending it, forwarding, board meetings,” recalls Joel Velasquez, one of the main parent organizers of the sit-in. “This is something that has been ongoing.”
But at a town hall meeting towards the end of the school year when parents had grown desperate, Velasquez said, the plan for a sit-in began to materialize.
“There was a moment where we went around and introduced ourselves and talked about what we were going to do. And I got really emotional; it was a tough moment for me. And I said you know what, I don’t know what everybody else is going to do. And I’m not telling you what to do. But this is what I’m going to do. On the last day of school, I’m not going to leave. And I hope that people join me,” said Velasquez.
The Peoples School for Public Education teaches an average of 20 kids per day.
Julia Fernandez, a high school math teacher who taught at Castlemont High last year, has enrolled her 2- and 4-year-olds in the camp, as well tabling outside the school and helping with organization.
She says her children are too young for elementary school, but she’s worried about providing an education for them when they reach school-age.
“The public schools are working worse and worse,” Fernandez said, “because we’re moving all these resources from them. I think that affects the school where my kids would go. It’s likely that it’s going to probably be closed or turned into a charter school.”
One of the school’s slated for closure, Lazear elementary, will instead be turned into a charter school.
“I really have a passion about teaching students to learn skills that they’re going to be able to use to be productive people for our community. And to see how that’s been taken away, its very upsetting to me. I want to put a lot of energy into fighting against it,” Fernandez said.
Protesters at Lakeview plan to continue the sit-in indefinitely.