On Wednesday, October 23, a protest at an Oakland School Board meeting turned violent when protesters clashed with Oakland police. Protesters expressed their disdain towards the recent choices about the budget and expected school closures in Oakland. The protesters’ main concern is that neighborhood schools are closing, because of the impact it will have on students, families, and communities. The closure of these schools has lead many people to feel abandoned by the District because they feel their children are being deprived of their right to an education. Along with the protesters’ focus on stopping school closures, they were also upset with the school board’s treatment of the public and many of its recent budgetary choices.
The night of the protest ended in multiple arrests and injuries, and the board members had to move their meeting into another room. The metal barricades separating the audience from the board were intentionally placed to mitigate expected outbreaks of protesters, as this was not the first time the meetings had ended in protest. There were also police officers present at the scene, which increased tensions between audience and board members.
Protesters voiced their opinions to the school board during public comment, a period where audience members are allowed to address the board directly for one minute about their concerns. Early on, the attendees expressed their dislike of the members and their decisions about how to distribute the budget in an effective manner. After arguing that the barricade and behavior of the board members made them feel that they weren’t being heard, speakers brought up their most substantial concerns. The last of five speakers approached the podium with the crowd of protesters behind her and stated her demands to the board: “Scrap the public blueprint and stop school closures, close the school to prison pipeline, fight back against the charter school takeover, and let the people see the money.” Soon after, the crowd broke down the barrier, as they yelled and chanted. Multiple parents and teachers were handcuffed and taken into custody when altercations broke out with police forces.
Anna Hamai, a senior at Berkeley High School (BHS) and the daughter of two Oakland public school teachers attended the protest. She said: “The outcome of this protest was not what I expected at all. I didn’t know there would be a barricade and that police [intervention] would be necessary.” She had been present at other board meetings in the past, and had not felt that there was any threat from the public that would require the board to take these precautions. At this protest, Hamai’s mother, a teacher at Kaiser Elementary School in Oakland, received injuries as a result of batons used by the police. Hamai and other protesters were unhappy with the poor treatment by police against protesters, but she also knows that the extent of the violence will help spread awareness for the issue. According to Hamai, the impact of the protest is that the protesters “got way more news coverage for this. This will help more people want to get involved and grow interest.”
Cherisse G., a regular attendee of Oakland School Board meetings, says that part of the issue is that the board members “are closing the Oakland schools sites that are predominantly in African American and Latino areas, that are also economically challenged, which becomes a major red flag.” As a mother and passionate community member in Oakland, Cherisse is knowledgeable on the potential changes going on in the district. This includes the possible shut down of up to 24 schools, the main issue that protesters oppose. The board brought this up as a considerable possibility in early September, claiming that the money taken from the school closures would be redirected towards improving other Oakland schools. They say this would mean better funding for resources and supplies, and would also allow those schools to be able to accommodate for more students.
The crowd broke down the barrier, as they yelled and chanted. Multiple parents and teachers were handcuffed and taken into custody when altercations broke out with police forces.
Protesters argue that the shutdowns are unnecessary and problematic for the neighborhoods where schools are set to close. They also oppose the rise of charter schools in Oakland because of the resources the schools divert from public schools. Cherisse said that she and many others would like the board to be more “fiscally transparent” with their budget. “This school year, [the board] is actually getting more money from the state than they ever have in the past,” said Cherisse, who also mentioned that “how much money they spend on administrators, as opposed to utilizing that same amount of money to go to the students and the school sites” is a problem. She emphasized that the choices the board has made with the budget have been ineffective in helping Oakland students and schools, and that the board was not listening to voices from public schools. Hamai mentioned similar issues, and said: “Right now, [the board members] feel as though they do not need to listen to the public schools.”
The violent outbreaks at the protest reveal protesters’ commitment to the issues they see in Oakland. Future school board meetings will provide more opportunities for dialogue between criticized board members and frustrated parents and students.