Oakland- “Get everybody up! They’re here! The police are here! Get everybody up!” cried Joel Velasquez and others as they ran from across the playground of Lakeview Elementary School in Oakland, California. A few moments later, children and parents emerged from their tents and prepared to flee the twelve fully armed officers that had crept through a rear entrance on campus.
Lakeview Elementary School, nearly a hundred years old, is one of five schools closed just this week by decision of the Oakland Unified School District as a part of a plan to cut costs and expenditures across the board. Intending to save approximately $2 million, OUSD has slated Lakeview to be converted to administrative facilities and in the process enraged many of those in the Lakeview community who affirm its critical role in the community. Poking holes in OUSD’s cost cutting argument; parents, teachers, and community members cite figures that indicate much of the $2 million of savings would be absorbed annually by the cost of busing Lakeview’s students to neighboring schools.
However, many of these neighboring schools are ill suited to welcoming the droves of new students coming from the five schools like Lakeview that have been shuttered this past week. Many of the schools are already overcrowded, under-funded, and employ teachers that, according to fellow community members and educators, are frequently over-worked and under-paid for the jobs before them. Several teachers that wished to remain anonymous balked at the notion of effectively teaching in an environment of swelling classes and rapidly dwindling classroom budgets.
In a half-hearted attempt to remedy this, OUSD has proposed the construction of “mobile educational units” to handle the burden of newly stranded students. This solution drew only further ire from parents and teachers who cited the $2 million construction costs of the units. “We’re not sure if it’s incompetence or malice… or maybe a mixture of both. We just can’t believe it” said one community member.
Responding to Oakland school closures and taking a cue from the Occupy movement, about 30 residents and supporters took up residence on the campus of Lakeview Elementary one day after the school’s closure, launching a “SAVE OUR SCHOOLS” campaign to reopen Lakeview and highlight the failures of the OUSD.
Donning a home-made yellow “SAVE LAKEVIEW” shirt, Joel Velasquez, a father of 2 Lakeview graduates, confronted the Oakland Police Dept. on Monday and reprimanded officers for sneaking, fully armed, through the rear entrance of the campus: once in the early morning to issue seemingly nonsensical trespassing notices and again later in the day to “ensure the safety of the school grounds.”
Determined to keep the school alive, the group of parents and teachers defiantly re-opened the school to hold summer classes for a small group of students following the Monday morning incursion by police. Classes are free and open for enrollment at the time of this writing.
“This school belongs to the people and we’re here to make sure the Oakland Unified School District is not successful in closing it down” said Velasquez as he unlocked the school’s front doors and welcomed students and community members into the colorful hallways. When asked how far they would go to keep the school open Velasquez responded “We’re prepared to be here for as long as it takes. This school belongs to us. Nobody, not OUSD or OPD can change that.”
For more photography by Dylan Kelley please go to photo blog here.