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Parents, Teachers And Students Protest Planned Closure Of Oakland Elementary School

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Parents, teachers and students mounted a passionate protest Friday morning, upset over the district's plans to close an Oakland elementary school.

Adults and children were on the sidewalk outside the school protesting the fact that Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. Elementary in the Hiller Highland neighborhood is set to be closed. The district is calling it a merge that will combine Kaiser with the larger Sankofa Academy, which is about four miles away.

"I'm out here today because closing schools hurts black and brown kids first and worst," said Kaiser Elementary parent Zach Norris.

He was one of dozens of parents who are outraged over the fact that his child's school is closing. He said he fears for what this means for the future of the entire district.

"We're here standing for the basic rights of all children across Oakland and saying keep schools open," said Norris.

Teachers at the protest said the district was docking their pay for participating in the event.

At the school board meeting on Wednesday, a coalition against the school closure stormed the meeting, chanting "No school closures!" and "Oakland is not for sale!"

Kaiser parents were also upset over the closure of a school that has a reputation for being more inclusive and tolerant than some other schools.

The parent of a young trans student told KPIX 5 off camera that the district specifically suggested that her child go to Kaiser because it is a LGBTQ sanctuary school. Officials also told her a lot of kids who had been bullied in the past were encouraged to go to Kaiser.

The parent said her family has received death threats because of her child being trans. Now she fears what will happen to her child, who is only seven years old.

She asked if she and her family can't feel safe here in the Bay Area, then where should they go?

The Oakland Unified School District said they recognize the Kaiser community is unhappy with the board of education's decision. The district recommended this move in the interest of what they believe is the long-term health and viability of the district and their ability to consolidate resources at fewer schools.

Chris Lightner has a daughter at Kaiser Elementary. He says many parents, not just at Kaiser, but across the city, don't trust the district.

He says it's hard to plan when the district plans for more mergers in the next few years.

"How can parents be planning to enroll their children in Oakland Unified School District schools when they don't even know if their schools are going to be there in 3 or 5 years?" asked Lightner.

Oakland unified says they currently have 37,000 students in 83 schools. The problem is many of the school are under-enrolled. There are 11,000 empty spaces at Oakland schools.

In a statement, the district said, "Currently, OUSD operates too many schools for the number of students we have and therefore our resources are spread too thinly."

These parents don't buy it.

"Why don't they put the money into the schools? Make the programs better and attract the children back to the schools," said Lightner.

They say it's all about priorities.

"Each time they close a school, they're building a school-to-prison pipeline," said Norris. "Alameda County can build a $75 million probation camp, but we can't keep schools open in one of the most rich regions in the country."

Oakland Unified School District is planning on potentially closing several more schools, but those details have yet to be worked out. Additional closures and mergers will likely be announced in the spring.

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