Westlake Middle School Oakland students and teachers walk out to protest proposed school closures

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The large group of protesters, equipped with signs reading “Hands Off Our Schools”, marched down Broadway to the sound of horns and cheers from sympathetic passers-by.

Westlake is one of five other schools the Oakland Unified School District has proposed closing by the end of 2023. If the plan goes into effect, Westlake will merge with West Oakland Middle School, three miles away.

Oakland school officials called the closures and consolidations a difficult but necessary decision in the face of a projected deficit of $12.3 million in 2022-23. Keeping schools open, district officials said, during a period of under-enrollment brought OUSD to the brink of insolvency.

The plan was met with hostility by some members of the district school board and many members of the public, who expressed deep concern about the disruption the closures would cause to students, many of whom are children of color.

Westlake’s mother, Kathryn Lee, joined the marchers in support of her daughter, LaiLani Davis, who has been attending middle school since seventh grade. Lee said her daughter was active in Westlake, participating in the Black Student Union, volleyball and after-school volunteer programs.

“(Westlake) is part of the neighborhood. All the children I know in this neighborhood attend. It would be detrimental to the community,” Lee said.

School District to protest its closure.”/>

Students, teachers and parents walked out of Westlake Middle School and marched to the offices of the Oakland Unified School District to protest its closure.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

The protest to keep schools together went beyond the march: Westlake staffers Moses Omolade, who helped organize the walkout, and Maurice André San-Chez engaged in a hunger strike in unless the school district grants requests to keep schools open.

“It’s really to protect black and brown bodies from harm,” Omolade said. “It’s unfortunate that an institution that’s supposed to put children first…that’s supposed to be based on equity is making these kinds of choices during a global pandemic without community engagement,” Omolade said over the protesters’ chants.

Westlake, like other Oakland schools affected by this plan, is home to many students of color. According to the 2021 California College Rankings, Westlake had 96% minority enrollment with a black student population at 51%.

Omolade explained that part of the harm that can happen to students of color is a distrust of the district. He said students may not be comfortable moving to a new school after establishing their community in Westlake.

“Our school moves with love. We are full of families. People have been sending their children for generations through Westlake,” he said. “When they shut that down and send us to another school, they tell us the work (that we did) doesn’t really matter.”

Schools scheduled to close by the end of 2023 are Prescott Elementary, Carl Munck Elementary, Parker K-8, Brookfield Elementary, and Grass Valley Elementary; The district recommended that RISE Elementary merge with New Highland, Westlake merge with West Oakland Middle School, and Ralph Bunche merge with Dewey High Schools.

Horace Mann Elementary and Korematsu Discovery Academy are among the schools scheduled to close by 2024, along with a recommendation Manzanita Community School and Fruitvale Elementary.


Ryce Stoughtenborough is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail:
[email protected] Twitter: @rstoughts

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