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Fighting for school crumbs

February 20, 2009

Students and families in Richmond, Pinole, San Pablo and El Cerrito threatened with massive school closures demand justice

by Malaika Parker, Justice Matters

Malaika Parker with her daughter, Imani
Malaika Parker with her daughter, Imani
The cold wet wind blew outside the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) board hearing last Wednesday. The meeting was focused on the school closures proposed for Richmond, Pinole, El Cerrito and San Pablo.

As I sat in solidarity with hundreds of families from all over the district, I was struck by the number of children, young children, pleading – crying – that their communities not be torn apart. As I listened to story after story of what the closure of a community school would mean for families, I thought about my daughter, a beautiful, vibrant preschooler who will soon enter the ranks of public elementary schools. I thought about what such a conversation would mean for her life.

For years the WCCUSD has been bitterly embattled in a monetary fight. This has resulted in a never-ending cry from students and families begging for schools to stay open in their communities.

As a community member, a mother and a former student of WCCUSD caught in the midst of the constant threat of school closures, I wonder at what point will the financial failure of this district be dealt with in a proactive way so that we may move on to the conversation about what happens in the classrooms of our schools. At what point does the conversation move from money – the fallacy that there is not enough in a country that spends trillions on war, bank rescue plans and so many other wasteful things – to what we are doing to ensure that the over 50 percent rate of school pushouts can be addressed.

When will it be time to address the fact that we are failing our students? When will we face the fact that hundreds of thousands of Black and Brown students who deserve an education that prepares them to live out their full potential are instead being pushed out of schools directly into prisons?

After an extremely heated meeting filled with the voices of teachers, students and families, many of whom are parent leaders with the Real Schools Now Campaign of Justice Matters, which works on policy and action to achieve a racially just classroom for students and families of color, Richmond and Pinole stepped in to save schools in their respective cities, with other cities expected to follow.

This action by cities in WCCUSD will spare many young people from being shipped off to schools completely disconnected from the strong heritage and sense of belonging of their communities. In addition, families will be spared the burden of paying an increased cost for transportation to and from school in these hard economic times.

Finally, it is not acceptable for a district to engage in a constant deficit approach to operating schools. Our children deserve abundance! A district without the wherewithal to balance a budget and keep schools open is sending a message to all of us families who have hoped for something better that we have a long way to go.

Malaika Parker, mother of Imani, is the campaign coordinator for Real Schools Now, a project of Justice Matters. To get more involved in the Real Schools Now Campaign, call (510) 860-3002 and visit www.justicematters.org.

A Recipe for Racially Just Schools

A community workshop on how to transform West Contra Costa County schools into safe and supportive spaces for students and families of color

At the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339 11th St. in Richmond, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, California Tomorrow will present a community workshops for parents, students, teachers and allies on how we can transform West Contra Costa schools into safe spaces that support young people of color academically, that honor students’ lives, individual language, cultural identities and rich experiences, where the diversity of the student body is valued, and where students can learn and work together across groups.

“To be strong allies and advocates for their children, it is important that parents learn what is possible in their children’s classrooms,” said Olivia Araiza, parent, WCCUSD resident and executive director of Justice Matters, a non-profit policy and research institute which works on racial justice in education policy and launched the Real Schools Now Campaign in WCCUSD in 2006.

Food and musical performance from the Richmond Jazz Collective will be the featured. For more information, call Malaika Parker at (510) 860-3002.

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