Photo: BOP Members + organizers, Steve Kerr BOP Led Youth March (2020)
Caption: BOP Members and organizers alongside Steve Kerr at BOP Led Youth March in 2020.
by Ebony Sinnamon-Johnson and Desiree McSwain-Mims
Just months ago, Oakland teachers shook the district when they staged a massive strike in opposition to proposed cuts to school and teacher funding, potential school closures, cuts to Special Education programming and more. Now with the Oakland teachers’ strike resolved, it is time to think about how our public schools can deliver the sustained investments that Black students need to thrive.
The strike ended with new commitments from the school district on key “common good” demands, including shared governance with the community and the district regarding community schools funding and much more. But the truth is, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) still has miles to go when it comes to delivering on the promises and agreements it made to Black students and the broader community.
In June 2020, the district adopted the George Floyd Resolution, which called for the elimination of the Oakland Schools Police Department after years of unjust treatment of Black students. The resolution was a community-crafted solution to address the extensive harm of school policing and systemic racism on Black students and families in Oakland. It was the result of a 10-year campaign led by the Black Organizing Project (BOP) – a campaign ignited after a series of attacks on Black communities, including the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of Oakland police and Raheim Brown at the hands of Oakland school police in 2009.
Three years after the passing of the resolution, the Oakland community has made progress in our work to transform our schools. We have seen the dismantling of the Oakland School Police Department, including facilities and melted weapons. Former school security officers are now Culture Keepers and Culture and Climate Ambassadors tasked with maintaining healthy school culture and responding to crises. Community organizations and district staff also worked together to redesign district wide safety plans, police-free policies and training and a transformative school safety budget to name a few.
But much more remains to be done. Removal of the police was always intended as a first step toward ending systemic racism and violence in our schools. We must also remove the implicit bias and anti-Black racism that still run rampant in our schools, while investing in critical supports – including expanded academic and mental health services – that will enable all Black students to succeed. The ultimate vision is to transform schools into safe havens, where Black students can learn, create, grow and develop healthy lives for generations to come.
The George Floyd Resolution explicitly called for more investment in these and other urgent needs, and yet OUSD’s current budget includes cuts that will harm Black students and other student groups, including students with disabilities, English language learners and foster youth. For example, the proposed budget eliminates dozens of special education and teacher aide positions and closes several special education programs, literally pushing disabled and Black students out of school, disproportionately.
Black and disabled students still lead the district in suspension and expulsion referrals. Black students are suspended more than double that of all suspensions district-wide and expelled more than triple their White and Asian peers. Disabled students are suspended nearly twice at the rate of all OUSD suspensions. Cutting the school budget as the OUSD suggests would push many of our students into the throes of crisis, while destabilizing the support systems needed to keep students safe.
In addition, the proposed budget fails to include the recommendations of the George Floyd Resolution design team in many areas – specifically its call to prioritize investments in school culture and climate, student wellness, and community partnerships to uphold school safety and well-being. We know the OUSD is facing budget constraints, but we must assert the leadership, imagination and will to avoid taking steps backward by disinvesting in these and other critical supports.
That’s why the Black Organizing Project and our partners are calling on the district and the school board to develop a plan for combining city, county, state, federal and private funding sources to fully invest $57 million in the full implementation of the George Floyd Resolution. Key elements of the George Floyd Resolution’s safety budget must include:
- Filling of critical staff positions at every school to ensure safety and sanctuary for Black students, including restorative justice facilitators, family liaisons, nurses and adequate special education staffing such as paraprofessionals.
- Hiring of “culture keepers” at school sites with the most police calls; these non-police positions, which replaced the former school police officers, are focused on relationship building, de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed restorative practice.
- A community-driven process for decision making regarding safety protocols, policies, practices and personnel for Oakland Unified School District.
- Partnering with and investing in community-based organizations with deep relationships with community to provide community-centered violence prevention, de-escalation, and healing-centered mentorship and to meet the needs of students.
- Reinvestment of all funds previously dedicated to the Oakland Schools Police Department in the services and supports outlined in the George Floyd Resolution People’s Budget.
This June marked the third anniversary of the George Floyd Resolution, and now is the time to know where the Oakland Unified School District truly stands. It is time that we fully invest in the resolution to transform our schools into sites where each student gains the skills and knowledge they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. OUSD has an obligation to adhere to the community’s demands, stop cuts and instead invest more into schools, and undo decades of harm.
Now is the time to sustain and grow our investments in Black students, so that generations of students can thrive, and the entire Oakland schools community can too.
Ebony Sinnamon-Johnson is the Black Sanctuary Organizer and Desiree McSwain-Mims is the Communications Organizer at Black Organizing Project.