AUCKLAND. Oakland Unified teachers insist they will hold a one-day strike on Friday to protest planned closure, merger or downsizing of 11 schoolsdistrict leaders urge families to leave their children at home on this day.
Since the Oakland Education Association, which represents teachers and other school workers, authorized the strike last week, the county and the union have been debating the legality of the proposed action.
County leaders are urging the union to prevent the strike, but on Tuesday the union redoubled its efforts, announcing that the strike is still ongoing.
In a letter given to the school community and the public on Tuesday, Oakland Unified Superintendent Kayla Johnson-Trammell said that while the district remains hopeful the union will “change course,” she urges families not to send students to the classroom if teachers leave.
“While school buildings will be open on Friday and all staff are still required to report to work, we do not believe we can cover the large number of anticipated staff absences by replacing or reassigning central office staff,” Johnson said. Trammell wrote in a public memo. “Therefore, we ask all families not to send their children to school on Friday. Absence will be excused and no student will be harmed if they do not go to school that day.”
She also denounced the labor action as “illegal”, noting that a union could only strike after contract negotiations or due to emergency health or safety concerns.
But the Oakland Education Association countered that the district was acting illegally by closing schools in such a hasty manner. It states that union members may strike in response to what they perceive to be unfair labor practices in the county.
When the school board agreed to close and merge schools to alleviate looming budget shortfalls caused in part by declining enrollment, it did not conduct a racial equity analysis or provide sufficient time for community feedback as required by the board’s previous decision and agreement. union leaders say.
After revealing the district’s plan to close schools in January, the board voted in early February to approve the closure and merger. The board insisted that it then had no choice but to close schools in order to take control of the district’s finances and improve school campuses, teacher pay, and student programs. The state provided Oakland Unified about $10 million on the condition that it close schools and submit an audit and financial plan.
The union earlier this year filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the county with the Public Employees Relations Board, a quasi-judicial agency that oversees collective bargaining for many public employees.
This request is still pending and could take many months to process, so the union wants to take a more immediate step and go on strike on this issue for one day.
Mandy Hu, a California Teachers Association staff attorney representing a local union, said on Tuesday that a strike over alleged unfair labor practices is one of the tools legally available under the public employee law.
Earlier this month, the Northern California ACLU, which represents a coalition that includes educators, parents and students, filed a complaint with the California Department of Justice asking State Attorney General Rob Bonte to investigate the council’s plan to close schools. The civil rights organization says the closure will disproportionately affect black students and their families. In four of the district’s seven schools scheduled to close by 2023, more than half of the students are black.
Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, said Tuesday that he doubts the school closure plan will save the county a significant amount of money. “The money is there to keep our schools open in Oakland,” he said.
Kim Davis, a member of OUSD Parents United, said Tuesday the group wants the district to spend less on outside consultants and contract to free up money to keep schools open.
The county “decides to break its promises,” she said.