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The doors to Westlake Middle School in Oakland were closed Friday morning. Outside were about two dozen people waving signs and shouting as nearly every passing car honked in support of a one-day walkout by teachers in the Oakland Unified School District.
Teachers went on strike to protest the school closure and consolidation plan approved by the school board earlier this year. Teachers and others say the plan will disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic students. Eleven schools are set to close over a two-year period.
The Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union, is calling Friday’s event an unfair labor practices strike. The union said the district has, on its own, set aside an earlier agreement with the union to talk to families when considering a school closure plan.
“Let’s be clear — educators don’t want to strike, but we are because OUSD has forced us to fight to protect the schools our Black and Brown students deserve,” union President Keith Brown said in a statement.
Brown said that on Thursday the California Public Employment Relations Board denied the district’s request to stop the strike. District officials previously called the strike illegal.
“Rather than putting their resources towards unilaterally closing schools, OUSD should be acting as a respected governing body of learning and walking the walk to support the future of Oakland’s families,” Brown added.
Westlake Middle School choir teacher and Oakland resident Maurice Andre San-Chez, 33, who earlier went on a hunger strike to raise awareness about opposition to the closures, said the divestment from Black and Hispanic communities “is unacceptable.”
Physically, he has recovered from the hunger strike. Mentally though, he said he is still recovering because leaders, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, were saying one thing and doing another.
He said he feels empowered and excited that teachers are building a coalition with other workers including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Service Employees International Union.
The ILWU has joined the teachers to protest the school district’s plan. Longshore and warehouse workers are also voicing their opposition to a proposal for a new Oakland A’s baseball stadium at Charles P. Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland.
“While most students across the District stayed home today with excused absences, some did come to school. Our focus right now is ensuring that they are having a positive experience on campus.”Oakland Unified School District statement
Port officials have said Howard Terminal is not needed for the port to operate well, and the dock workers disagree.
“It is a nexus between the port cargo area, ILWU training area, and ship turn-around,” Trent Willis, past president of the ILWU Local 10, said in a statement. “It is critical to keeping trucks off of the streets of West Oakland and is next to a fully functioning industrial railroad.”
The coalition of port workers and teachers is called Schools and Labor Against Privatization, or SLAP, which is opposed to the privatization of public resources.
The teachers’ union opposes charter schools while port workers oppose the Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s ballpark plan. The Port of Oakland is an independent department of the city of Oakland.
A statement from the school district Friday said, “While most students across the District stayed home today with excused absences, some did come to school. Our focus right now is ensuring that they are having a positive experience on campus.”