(Courtesy photo)

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A group of Oakland activists and parents on Tuesday called on the Oakland Unified School District to suspend all proposed school closures, mergers and charter school co-locations until the novel coronavirus outbreak has ended.

Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights held a video news conference with Oakland Unified parents and teachers and members of the Service Employees International Union and American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday to argue that the district should not force them to decide their future plans during a pandemic.

The group also argued that the public cannot meaningfully participate in the district’s decision-making processes during the pandemic.

“Given the angst in our community due to COVID-19, I find it impossible for teachers to be able to participate in meaningful planning for a merged school to be successfully ready to open, plus actually attract families in the fall of 2020,” said Amelia Bailey, a third-grade teacher at Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary School. “How can such a rushed process be trusted by families in Oakland?”

The group compared the need to suspend closures and mergers to decisions by local governments, including the Oakland City Council, to suspend rental evictions during the outbreak and argued that the district was taking advantage of the hardship the crisis has created.

A spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District said the district has not yet decided on the final timeline for school closures and other reconfigurations.

The district had originally planned to propose changes for cohort three in its Blueprint for Quality Schools, which could have included a reallocation of facilities, staff and students at the end of next month.

“Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and the need to prioritize the health and safety of OUSD students, staff, and families, we recommend adjusting our blueprint decision-making timeline to allow OUSD time to focus on the current issue at hand,” district spokesman John Sasaki said in an email.

Sasaki also noted that charter school co-locations are part of the state’s Proposition 39, which allocates funding to schools that install energy-efficient upgrades, and is not part of the Blueprint for Quality Schools.