As students and teachers were celebrating and preparing for the holiday winter break, officials of the Oakland Unified School District held a meeting at Roots International Academy to tell families and teachers that their school will be closed at the end of the current school year.
The announcement on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 18 – only four days before the start of the holidays – was delivered by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell, a team of central office staff and Shanthi Gonzales, the school board member who represents the school.
Roots is a neighborhood middle school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland. The school shares a campus with a much better funded sixth through 12th-grade school, Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), which make may take over the entire site if Roots closes.
The district’s decision, repeated in a robocall to the entire school community on Friday – the last school day of the year, was blunt. The school will be closed and the students dispersed to other schools throughout the district. Students were promised an “opportunity ticket,” a pledge they would be able to enroll at a higher preforming school elsewhere in the district.
Without waiting for Roots or public input, the Board of Education is scheduled to start the process of closing the school at its first meeting after the winter break on Wednesday, Jan. 9, making the final decision on Jan. 23.
The large turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was surprising, according to people at the school. More than 100 parents, students and teachers took time from their holiday preparations to come to the meeting to speak out against the district’s rushed decision.
Reacting with surprise and anger, speakers expressed their concern that the district was making the decision without consulting them. They said the district is disrupting their children’s education and destroying their school community.
The district bears responsibility for neglecting and under-funding Roots for years, as well as frequently disrupting the school by changing principals and removing staff and teachers, they said.
“They told the staff and community (at the Tuesday meeting) … that they would displace our neighborhood kids to schools that are not in their community,” said Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan in a Facebook post.
“The district told us that community voice(s) would not have anything to do with their choice as to whether to close a neighborhood public school,” Ranahan said. “School Board Rep. Shanthi Gonzales verbally committed to closing Roots without reason.”
“OUSD, how can you close a school you never fully funded?” she asked.
Silvia Ornelas, an eighth-grade parent who is active at the school, asked why the district is not answering the school community’s questions.
“Why are they targeting Roots so quickly? What’s the rush?” Asked Ornelas.
“We’re trying to get the answers for our community,” she said. “People are devastated, parents and students alike. It’s heartbreaking. There are no clear answers.”
“Our kids need a one-on-one connection with adults,” she said. “They need to know they have somebody they can talk to. At Roots they have it. If they go to a bigger school, many of them will fall through the cracks.”
In statement to the Post, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “The plan is to absorb many students into the adjacent Coliseum College Prep Academy. All other students will receive an opportunity ticket which will give them priority placement to a higher performing middle school.”
The Oakland Post has heard from staff that only a handful of students will be able to transfer to CCPA. The district so far not explained whether the “Opportunity Ticket” amounts to more than a vague promise, which “higher preforming” schools students will be made available or why Roots cannot be merged with CCPA.
Last year, Roots had 309 students, 29 percent African American and 60 percent Latino, according to state statistics. The student population may have fallen last school year after an infestation of rats or mice led parents to pull 40 to 60 children from the school.
Megan Bumpus, a member of the Oakland Teachers Association (OEA) executive board, questioned why the district is ignoring its own community engagement plan for closing up to 24 schools in the next few years.
“Getting a robocall at the start of winter break announcing that your child’s school is closing is not community engagement,” Bumpus said.
“Saying that there’s a three-year Blueprint process with a Board vote but then officially announcing that a school is closing in a few months without following the plan creates mistrust in a system designed to fail students of color in targeted neighborhoods,” she said,
The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5:30 p.m., at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.