Oakland school closures disproportionately affect Black students, lawsuit says 

They're "trying to push Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline," said a parent. "They don’t care about educating our kids."

A lawsuit has been filed with the California Department of Justice this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. The suit implores Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate a new school closure plan from the Oakland Unified School District, one the ACLU says disproportionately impacts Black students and their families. 

According to The Davis Vanguard, the Oakland school board plans to close seven schools and merge two others, despite strong opposition from the community. At four of the seven schools set to be closed, more than half of the students are Black, although they are only one-fifth of the district’s student population. Some of the closures will specifically impact Black students with special needs, WUSF maintains.

Parents in Oakland are decrying what they say are discriminatory decisions to close district schools that serve Black students with disabilities. (Photo: AdobeStock)

Teachers in the district announced a one-day strike at the end of this work week in response to the closures and what Oakland Education Association calls “unfair labor practices.” 

The Oakland Unified School District responded with a cease-and-desist letter Sunday afternoon, according to San Francisco’s local CBS station, KPIX 5. 

In their complaint, the ACLU writes that “Oakland Unified School District has a long history of discriminating against Black students and families.” It claims that the district has a pattern of “underfunding and mismanaging small schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods” and adds that the closures will also disrupt the tight-knit school communities and mean that hundreds of Black students will be displaced. 

“These staff make students feel special. Teachers in these schools are already familiar with their students and can make sure that they are on the right track,” the ACLU contends, per The Davis Vanguard. “Students are also highly involved in school, such as attending after-school programs. When the school closes, they have to move to a new place and separate from their friends. Students will also face longer distance to school and transportation issues if their schools close.”

One parent whose children will be displaced told the outlet, “The school district is trying to push Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline. They don’t care about educating our kids. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

According to KPIX 5, the plan will close Brookfield Elementary School, Carl B. Munck Elementary School, Grass Valley Elementary School, Horace Mann Elementary School, and Korematsu Discovery Academy in the 2022-2023 school year. Hillcrest K-8 would close its middle-school grades. Rise Community Elementary and New Highland Academy would merge into one school this year.

The ACLU court filing says the Oakland Unified School District proposal “violates Black students’ fundamental right to equal educational opportunity under the California Constitution and discriminates based on race.”

Additionally, the ACLU says the school board did not fulfill provisions in the “Reparations for Black Students Resolution,” which the district adopted in March 2021, by failing to analyze the racial equity in its closure plan. 

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