Parents and community members in Oakland have been taking over Parker K-8 School since the school was officially ordered closed on May 25. It has been more than 70 days since parents, students, and community members began the 24/7 sit-in at Parker, one of the three schools Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) ordered to close this year. Since the start of the sit-in, hundreds of people have participated. Two Parker parents organically agreed to take over the school, and community members followed. They have held community events, celebrated birthdays, and even held a summer school for about 20 participating students and a graduation ceremony. But on Thursday, Aug. 4, OUSD security guards raided the premises, and video footage shows aggressive security guards violently detaining, harassing, and assaulting community members at the school. All protesters were removed from the building, and one parent, Max Orozco, was injured and detained for an hour inside the school. Once security left, community members retook the school and will continue to occupy it until their demands to end the closure are met. Aside from not closing the school, organizers also call on OUSD to not retaliate against teachers supporting the action.
“We’ve never been violent,” said Max Orozco, a parent running for school board District 2. “[Last week’s] attack was uncalled for. I was held against my will, handcuffed against my will. I am not a violent person. I never raised my voice.”
Orzoco is calling for an investigation to hold the security guards accountable for the assault. Another protester, Rebecca Ruiz, was thrown against a wall and suffered a concussion. Oakland Police and paramedics were called to make sure Orozco was okay. The aggression opposes the George Floyd resolution, which removed the OUSD Police Department.
“[Orzoco] did not do anything aggressive, he was not threatening,” said Joel Velasquez, who is running for a school board position in District 6. “All he did was step into the space that helped me find out who [the security] were and what they were doing there. When he did that, they grabbed him and threw him to the ground.”
During a press conference held at Parker K-8 on August 5, Parker parent organizer Azlinah Tambu said, “We ended up staying … when our kids graduated on May 25, and we had the best summer ever … That’s what we did it for, to have something nice. So to show up and see five, six huge security officers drag him in there and then beat him up and hold him hostage in handcuffs for over an hour, that’s scary … This a school that two mothers and some other parents and community members are trying to keep open; there is no reason for there to be a hostage situation with somebody bleeding on the floor.”
According to a statement from OUSD, “Parker K-8 School is now closed. The individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions. Of great concern is that the children that were onsite were sleeping in unsafe conditions and that the adults were running an unsafe and unlicensed child care program. We continue to demand that they find other ways to safely and peaceably express their concerns.”
Velasquez and other community members insist that this is not trespassing but instead a form of civil disobedience necessary to save their community’s school.
“The only way to get attention and the only way to make things right is to break laws that are not lawful,” Velasquez said. “I think there’s a strong opinion here in our community that OUSD is trespassing on our public education and specifically at Parker and closing other schools. And that is trespassing on the education system. I’m not trying to be funny or be dramatic, but I don’t see anything wrong with parents or community members using a space for what it’s intended for, to protect their children and their community. I don’t call that trespassing.”
OUSD school closures have been rampant in recent years. According to the union, the district has closed 16 majority-Black schools in the past 15 years. According to California Department of Education data, more than half of the students enrolled in four of the seven schools that will close are Black. Across the district, Black children made up 21% of the student population enrolled in the 2020-21 school year, and over 47% are Latinx. The closures follow a 20-year pattern of school closures that deprive Black students of equal educational opportunities.
Velasquez has personally experienced the impact that Oakland school closures can have. Two of his children attended Lakeview Elementary School until 2012 when the district closed the school and allowed a charter school to open in its place. A sit-in was also held in protest of the closure until Oakland police raided the protest. At the start of the 2022 summer, Velasquez participated in Parker’s liberation as a sign of solidarity and support.
“It was bittersweet. I’m watching parents and children go through the same thing that my family and my community went through in 2012,” Velasquez said. “It’s heartbreaking. These racist practices in Oakland and across the country are impacting all of our communities.”
According to Velasquez, members are also demanding that OUSD not retaliate against teachers who are supporting the liberation. They have already fired one substitute teacher, Craig Gordon, after he was vocal in his support of the protest. Gordon has taught at OUSD schools for 32 years, most recently substituting since 2014, and has never received a formal complaint or unsatisfactory evaluation. He is an active union member and has participated in the takeover at Parker multiple times since it began. When he asked the head of human resources why he was being fired, he was told they didn’t have to give him a reason since he is a substitute. Another teacher has also been fired, but they do not want to be named.
“It’s obvious that this is retaliation,” Gordon said. “They badly need substitutes so much that they raised substitute pay significantly last year because there was a terrible shortage, and there still is. The situation is really dire, and for them to decide to tell an experienced qualified substitute at the very beginning of the year that he’s fired, it can have no other explanation but retaliation.”
Since the raid, parents have met with OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, but ultimately the decision to close schools is not up to her and instead lies with the school board. OUSD is also facing an investigation from ACLU for the impact this will have on Oakland’s Black community (51.8% of Parker K-8’s population is Black) and from the Oakland Education Association, who filed an unfair labor practice charge for the closures.
Until demands are met, the community will continue to take over Parker K-8, even as students and teachers begin their new year at their new schools. Paula Mitchell, a teacher on special assignment at Grass Valley Elementary, said her school was one of the 11 spared from closure this year, but it is slated to close by the end of the current 2022-23 school year.
“There’s an opportunity here to have an impact, to get this policy changed, potentially,” Mitchell said. “But then at the same time, there’s still a frustration that we have to expend our energy on fighting this when really we should be focusing all of our energy on supporting students and making sure that they’re learning and getting the best experience, but we have to put energy into absolutely fighting the closure.”
Community members taking over Parker are calling on donations to support them in their liberation since they have not been able to work since holding down the site.