By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
The struggle for the community to keep schools that have a predominant Black populations open in Oakland, seems to be readying itself for the long haul of summer, by having regular town hall meetings and rallies to keep the issue on the forefront of Oaklanders minds, and to keep the community educated as to the dirty tricks that the district and politicians might play to get their way, throughout this educational gentrification campaign.
Kampala Taiz Rancifer, is a parent and education advocate in the Oakland Unified School District, who works closely with the OEA, the teacher’s union, and she helped to found the Reparations for Black Students Campaign. I wanted to get her to weigh in on some of the issues surrounding the education of Black students in the district.
JR Valrey: What has it been like being a parent in the OUSD that is active in OUSD politics during the pandemic?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: As a parent and an educator, it’s been incredibly difficult and scary. I have an up close and personal view of what is working and all of the systems that fail. In fact, I left my child home several times because I was unclear about how safe it was at the school. Given the attendance irregularities this year, I suspect many parents did the same.
OUSD often asked OEA to put out joint statements about the safety at schools and we didn’t always feel like we could do that in good faith. I always felt that if school doesn’t feel safe for my child, I do not feel comfortable saying it’s safe for other people’s children.
We are fortunate, I am able to provide my daughter with quality masks. I had access to her school site and others around the district to ensure that the air purifiers were working, that windows were functioning and could open and that on-site testing actually occurred as agreed to in our contract. When my daughter was in attendance it was because she was healthy and the school protocols were working.
Unfortunately, there were several places where these things weren’t occurring. Even more unfortunate is that the breakdowns often occurred in our school sites with our most vulnerable populations. Families had to rely on what the district was telling them which wasn’t always forthcoming. That is why our educators made sure to explain the real safety hazards to families when they would arise.
JR Valrey: Why are you against school closures? Does it save the district money, for a declining student population?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: I am against school closures because it is an example of systemic and institutionalized racism. School closures have disproportionately impacted Black students for years. Since 2004, 16 out of the 18 schools closed were in schools with large populations of Black students. When the schools closed, they re-opened as charter schools with 60% fewer Black students in them. The practice of closing schools is a national trend that is tied with the privatization movement. A practice to make profit off the education system and students of color, most targeted at Black students.
The district narrative is that this saves the district money, however, there is no evidence that this is true. The other message touted is that it will provide better quality schools for the students impacted. However, the reality is that OUSD has closed 16+ majority Black schools and outcomes for these students remain the same or worse.
JR Valrey: I know that you have been involved in the campaign for Reparations for Black Students in the OUSD, what is the purpose of the campaign?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: This Reparations for Black Students campaign is a result of listening sessions with Black students, parents, educators, school and district staff from 2017 to 2019. The campaign is led by the Black Working Group of the J4OS (Justice for Oakland Students) coalition. From the listening sessions we crafted a list of demands to address the issues that arose out of those meetings.
The campaign is designed to ensure that we won the resolution and that it is implemented with fidelity. We believe every Black student has a right to be safe at school, achieve academically and thrive in Oakland! Black students deserve an education without over-criminalization, bias, lack of empathy, under-resourcing and failure to meet minimum state and civil rights standards. Every Black family in the district has faced some form of anti-Black racism and discrimination – and yet there has never been a comprehensive plan, resources, and set of integrated strategies at the scale needed to address the problem. That is why we created the resolution and why we created the demands below.
JR Valrey: What are the next steps that parents in OUSD can play a part in, if they want to help save the East Oakland schools?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: Parents and Community members, not impacted by the school closures should get informed. Please view and share the People’s Professional Development that discusses in detail the privatization process. OUSD is not finished closing our schools. School closures may be coming to a neighborhood near you, please inform yourself and get involved now. If we apply pressure now, maybe we can stop this practice before it destroys more school communities.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about the March 5th march in East Oakland? How did it go?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: The March 5th rally in East Oakland was to bring community awareness to the issue of school closures to the communities most impacted by closures. It turned out great and I think it achieved the intended goal.
JR Valrey: How can people stay informed about what you are involved in in the OUSD? What are your social media handles?
Kampala Taiz Rancifer: If people go to reparationsforblackstudents.org they can sign up to endorse the campaign. They will then receive our newsletter. You can also catch us @rep4blkstudents on both Twitter and Instagram.