Category: Education/Schools/Youth

OUSD to Renovate Historic Second Avenue Headquarters

The buildings are named after Marcus Foster and Paul Robeson

OUSD headquarters at 1025 Second Ave. will reopen in 2019.


By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is on a fast track to renovate and reopen its historic administration building, which has been closed since January 2013 when a water leak flooded the building. The buildings at the site, located along the Oakland Estuary between 10th and 12th streets, is now named the Dr. Marcus Foster Educational Complex. The buildings at the site include the Paul Robeson Administration Building and the Ethel Moore Building – adjacent to a high school, Dewey Academy.

The “aggressive” timeline for completing design, permits and construction calls for moving into the complex in July 2019, one month before the district’s lease expires for its temporary headquarters in downtown Oakland, according to Joe Dominquez, the deputy chief who oversees the Division of Facilities Planning & Management for OUSD.

The plan to move back to the site of the old district headquarters has been in the works for a while, and now the priority is to let the public know what is being planned and to actively involve the community in the process, said Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

In the short run it may have worked to lease property, but “in the long run being housed in our own facility is economically effective,” she said.

The extensive renovation will involve seismic retrofits, ADA upgrades and replacement of all systems: heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing and IT. In addition, walls, windows and roofs will be repaired or replaced.

The cost of renovating the four-story Robeson Building, 56,000 square feet, and the three-story, wood-framed Ethel Moore Building, 14,000 square feet, is estimated at $40 million for the Robeson and Ethel Moore buildings and $49.5 million for the two buildings and the construction of a multi-purpose room for Dewey Academy, according to Dominguez, speaking at a recent school board meeting.

A building assessment is being completed, and a more exact cost estimate is being prepared, said Dominguez. The district will pay for the project with Measure J bond funds by utilizing a lease-leaseback agreements according to the district.
Under such a plan, the school district leases its property to a developer at a nominal cost and then leases the completed project back from the developer. At the end of the lease, the property reverts to the district.

The water leak that occurred during the night of Jan. 7, 2013 in the Robeson Building caused “excessive flooding on all four floors and significant damage to the entire structure,” according to 2015 district memo by then General Counsel Jacqueline Minor.

District staff vacated the building, moving temporarily to numerous school sites.

Paul Robeson

Instead of repairing its existing headquarters, OUSD leased space at 1000 Broadway in 2013 and in 2015 renewed and expanded its lease of space for central office functions.

The 2015 lease, which expires at the end of August 2019, is now costing the district about $3 million a

Marcus A. Foster


According the district 2015 memo, the insurance settlement for the damage covered the cost of  lease payments until May 2016.

Marcus A. Foster was an extremely popular OUSD superintendent, who served from 1970 to 1973. He was assassinated in 1973 after a school board meeting by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Paul Robeson, 1898 – 1976, was an athlete, singer and actor and an outspoken advocate for racial justice and workers rights. A revolutionary and anti imperialist, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Published September 1, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Outside Fiscal Team Examines School District´s Precarious Finances

Community questions FCMAT’s support for closing schools and restricting wage increases

By Ken Epstein

In an attempt to gain a better picture of its financial condition, the Oakland Unified School District has reached out for the help of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, (FCMAT), which has produced a report detailing it findings and recommendations.

FCMAT CEO Michael Fine was previously deputy superintendent for business services of the Riverside Unified School District. Photo courtesy of John Fensterwald, EdSource.

The 51-page report, released Aug. 15, focuses on 20 key fiscal indicators, including deficit spending, unbudgeted hiring of top administrators, maintaining financial reserves, miscalculation of enrollment, bargaining agreements and excessively growing costs of special education and cafeteria programs.

The district released its own estimate of its present situation to accompany the FCMAT report, which was presented at last week’s school board meeting.

“The current financial situation is stable but fragile. OUSD has little room for mistakes,” the district’s Aug. 24 statement said.  “It is imperative that we implement and sustain sound financial management practices to strength our financial position.

“It is especially important that OUSD spend within approved balanced budgets.”

FCMAT, which is state funded but independently run, has a contentious history in Oakland.

The organization played a major role in the district during the period of the state takeover from 2003 to 2009 when the power of the school board was suspended and voters had no influence over educational policy. At the time, the organization was blamed by activists for the lack of wage increases, closing of schools and the loss of many excellent teachers and administrators.

Some of FCMAT’s findings and recommendations are:

Deficit spending and fund balance – The district had a structural deficit in each reporting period last year except in one period when it overestimated enrollment and attendance. The district fund balance fell, which means its required financial reserves were in jeopardy.

“Deficit spending is eroding away your fund balance,” said Michelle Giacomini, FCMAT Chief Management Analyst at last week’s board meeting.

“We should not expect to see fund balances drop … when you had a lot of one-time money coming in from the state,” said Deborah Deal, FCMAT Intervention Specialist.

Growing costs of special education and early childhood programs – Special education grew last year by $6.2 million over 2014-2015 and now totals a $51.5 million “encroachment from unrestricted funds.”

The early childhood program was supported with $1.3 million of unrestricted and $2 million of Title I funds,” yet overspent by $1.2 million as the district hired staff for …(a) program while the numbers of anticipated students did not materialize, “according to the report.

The food service program required contributions of $2 million, about $1.1million more than budgeted, the report said.

Impact of charter schools – “Charter enrollment has a significant effect on the district’s enrollment and has increased by 1,965 during the last three fiscal years,” the report said.

Call for school closures – Recognizing that school closures are a hot button issue, the report criticizes the “abundance of small schools and failure of the governing board to address the issue.”

Restrict employee raises – The district is giving excessive raises to employees, the report said. “The district has bargained more than a cost-of-living increase in each of the last three years,” it said.

Former superintendent hired unbudgeted positions –  FCMAT said, “The former superintendent rushed new unfunded positions through the process without regard to budget appropriation.”

Hiring based on inflated enrollment estimates – District attendance turned out to be 426 students lower last year than estimated in the adopted budget. However, the district did not make cuts in staff and programs to match actual program needs.

Holding superintendent accountable – The FCMAT report both said the school board is responsible for district finances and should not interfere with the superintendent’s management of the district. FCMAT staff had no answers for what board members should do if they are not being kept informed or are given wrong information.

After the report, some members of the public commented.

Trish Gorham, president of the Oakland Education Association (OEA), said, “There´s a lot of good information here. But interpreting it and making conclusions from that data is a different thing. We can come to different conclusions.”
“To say that raises can only be based on the cost of living is incorrect,” she said. “It was based on increased revenue and was a sound decision.”

Kim Davis of Parents United for Public Schools criticized the  “unwillingness of the board to take hold of its responsibility and supervise the actions of the (former) superintendent.”

She said that top management increased by 550 percent in two and half years.  “You all approved the contracts,” Davis said. “Most of them were approved without discussion.”

Education activist Mike Hutchinson called for the district to hire an internal auditor, a position that has long gone unfilled.

Published September 1, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland Schools Open with Students and Community Volunteers Hard at Work


Oakland Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, second from left, is joined at a press conference on opening day Monday by students, parents and teachers at Oakland SOL, a new school in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell kicked off the first day of school with a tour of hill and flatland schools, starting the day at Montera Middle School, which she had attended as a child.

She visited Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in West Oakland, taking part in a backpack and school supply giveaway courtesy of Kaiser Permanente, Lend a Hand Foundation and others.

At Fremont High School in East Oakland she visited an architectural drawing class, a multilingual media arts class and woodshop. At Franklin Elementary she went to classes and to the cafeteria where students were eating lunch.

She also visited Rudsdale Newcomer Program at Hillside Academy where more than 100 employees of the Golden State Warriors were assembling furniture, beautifying the grounds and painting the campus.

Johnson-Trammell’s last stop of the day was for a brief press conference at the brand new dual-immersion language middle school, Oakland SOL, which was created through a three-and-a-half year partnership between the district and students, parents and community members, including Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

What was most outstanding about the day, she said, was “seeing all of the community and all of the city support for our schools.”

“It´s been a great day seeing all of the hard work,” she said. “That’s how we´re really going to have community schools, having everyone pitch in together.

“I know many times people outside of education think we are relaxing in June, July and August but all of us here know the real deal. That’s when the real work happens,” she said.

“After all of the planning and the thinking, we’ve (finally) been able to see the fruition of all of that,” said Johnson-Trammel.

School Board President James Harris underscored the excitement the board, district staff and the school community feels about having such a highly qualified, homegrown superintendent.

“We are very excited as a school board and as a community,” he said. “I don’t think I´ve ever seen this level of excitement about our leadership, about our superintendent,” he said. “I am extremely happy to be able listen to a superintendent talk about coming up in Oakland.”

“Our students can see the path to their success,” Harris continued. “We have our own legends living today, who came from this soil.

“It’s important that we know that Oakland is much more than the news headlines, and it is a place of winners. It is a place of people with faith. It’s a place of people with commitment.”

Published August 25, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland SOL is City’s First Spanish and English New Public School in 10 Years

Hard work and vision of educators, families and community make middle school a reality

Some of those who worked to create Oakland SOL, the city’s new dual-immersion Spanish and English middle schooll, were (L to R): SOL’s principal Katherine Carter, Luz Alcaraz and daughter Nathalia, Almarie Frazier and daughter Kamari, OCO organizer Katy Núñez-Adler and Ajene Snaer. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

It was a coincidence that Oakland’s first new public school in more than a decade, called Oakland SOL, opened its doors Monday – the same day as the solar eclipse.

However, the School of Language (SOL) itself was not an accident but the product of community perseverance and vision.
Created through three-and-a-half years of hard work and careful planning – overcoming countless obstacles – this dual-language immersion, English and Spanish, middle school was developed as a partnership between the community and the Oakland Unified School District.

This year, the school – located at 1180 70th Ave. near International Boulevard – will serve 75 sixth graders and will phase in seventh and eighth grades during the next two years.

The school is still accepting new students – open to families that want their children to learn English and English-speaking students who want to learn Spanish.

At Oakland SOL, which is based on the energy and commitment of its families, the parents and students chose the principal and teachers. The site itself was a ”fixer-upper,” according to the parents, and families pitched in to paint and make the needed improvements.

“The district was had budgeted money to fix up the space. However, funds were severely reduced because of the budget deficit,” according to one of the organizers.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell enthusiastically endorsed the school, saying that community-based schools like Oakland SOL are the path forward for improving the Oakland Unified School District.

Exhilarated after finally being able to see the fruition of their efforts, members of the parent and student design team talked to the Oakland Post on Monday afternoon about what it took to make their school a reality.

The idea for the school started at Manzanita SEED – an East Oakland elementary school – when parents began to think about the need for a dual language immersion middle (sixth through eighth grade) school their children could attend after they finished fifth grade.

The families soon realized that other schools and other parents shared their interest, and they all would be stronger if they worked together.

Teaming up with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), which is based on a network congregations and schools throughout the city organized to improve conditions, they began to involve families and students from different schools and different backgrounds and cultures.

“We started involving families in different school communities, to make sure that there were opportunities for families from different cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds to participate,” said Alcaraz, a parent and member of the design team, as well a member of the board of OCO.

Team members learned to write grants and proposals to OUSD and other partners, which helped pay for them to visit schools in other communities and helped research existing models for what they wanted to accomplish.

“Some members of the team helped write grants, but this was not done with a lot of money,” said Alcaraz.

Besides parents and students, the design team included educators, including design team leader Katherine Carter, who is now principal at the school.

A lot of the work was done by volunteers, and OCO provided staff support to help with organizing, she said.

“In reality, my experience was that it was faith and commitment that led to this school,” she said. “I wanted this for my daughter Nathalia.”

“It’s been a long haul, but it doesn’t feel like that long because it’s what our hearts wanted.”

Almarie Frazier explained that she got involved because she wanted to make sure her daughter Kamari could continue to be bilingual when she went to middle school.

An OCO organizer “invited me to come to meetings about building connections with other parents. That´s how I got caught in the little web,” she said.

“I didn’t think about coming in and volunteering for all these years. But it was a great experience, getting to know better some people I wouldn’t usually get to interact with on a daily basis,” she said.

“This is our future – we live in a diverse place,” said Frazier. “I feel like I was part of something. I helped build it.”

Ajene Snaer, a sixth grader at the school, has been part of the design team from the beginning as a second grader.

“When I think about it, (I realize) I actually helped to build this school,” he said.

“We started with just a few people,” he said, “and it ended up being a big group of people, agreeing on the same things and making it into a reality.”

To find out more about the school or enroll a student call (510) 636-7992 or email

Published August 25, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Youth at MLK Freedom Center Join Struggle to Empower Voters

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

Sophia Quintana of Berkeley and active member of the MLK Freedom Center registers voters at July 4 naturalization ceremony in Seattle, WA.

By Ken Epstein

Young people who participated in an intensive six-week voter registration and community engagement project this summer recently attended a labor breakfast celebration in their honor, where they talked about their efforts to register new voters and reflected on what they learned and how it transformed them.

The “Civic Engagement Pilgrimage,” organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, which is based at Merritt College in Oakland took a diverse group of 65 young people, mostly high school students from Oakland and Washington state, on a journey from Washington to Portland to Bakersfield and Fresno in California, where they registered voters and had in-depth discussions with elected officials, community and tribal leaders in urban and rural areas and Indian nations.

The breakfast was held Aug. 4 at the offices of the Alameda Labor Council in Oakland, attended by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and Peralta Community Colleges Chancellor Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre, who are strong supporters of the work of the freedom center.

The young people said they heard the same words over and over from people in different communities: “Our voices don´t matter; nothing you do will change the system,” according to Laelah Jackson, a junior at Berkeley High.

“It is important to educate and be educated,” she said.  “What we´re doing is bigger than each of us. “It’s the ‘we’” that makes the difference.

“We learned that we live in very trying times night now,” said Angela Drake, a student at Castlemont High School. “We have to give hope to each other. No one is going to do it for us, but us.”

The young people said that in the course of their discussions with people and the classes and trainings among themselves they learned critical thinking, experienced growing self confidence and a sense of “love and solidarity” with each other and the people.

The Martin Luther King Freedom Center, which was created by Oakland’s MLK Day March and Rally Committee, began its work in 2001.  Executive Director Dr. Roy Wilson has led the organization for the past 10 years.

Based on the lessons of summer´s listening sessions and discussions in communities, the center plans to launch intensive voter education and registration efforts this year, including work in congressional districts in California´s Central Valley.
For more information on the Freedom Center, go to

Published August 17, 2017, courtesy of the Post News Group

New Oakland Schools’ Superintendent Emphasizes Transparency and Collaboration


Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell

Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell


By Ken Epstein

In the first press conference of her new administration, Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell spoke about some of the big concerns on the minds of members of the Oakland community: producing quality and equity in schools, transparency and collaboration of the central office in dealing with schools and parents and what will be the impact on school communities of the large hole left in the budget by the last superintendent.

When Johnson-Trammell, 41, took over the leadership of the district on July 1, she became the first homegrown leader of the Oakland Unified School District in over a dozen years.

Born and raised in East Oakland, she attended Montclair Elementary and Montera Middle schools. She has worked for 18 years in the district as a teacher, principal, administrator and interim deputy superintendent.

Addressing concerns about the financial solvency of the district, she emphasized that OUSD faces the same tough issues as city districts across the state, inadequate funds and a teacher shortage, especially in bilingual and special education.

As an urban district, she said, ¨We have been in this state before.”

She said she hopes to avoid or mitigate some of the worst of the possible budget cuts, employing “creative and innovative” methods to save money, in addition to raising money from outside sources.

Underscoring her commitment to collaboration with the school community, she said, ”It can´t be just myself and two other people in the room making those decisions.”

However, ultimately hard choices sometimes must be made between competing needs for limited resources.

“At the end of the day, we´re going to have to say no (sometimes),” she said. “There will be probably be some tension. It´s my responsibility to be a good shepherd of the resources we have.”

Johnson-Trammell said the district has high quality programs and should build on them.

Two high schools that are doing well are Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) in East Oakland, which has high graduation rates of Latino students, and McClymonds High School in West Oakland, which has high rates of graduation of African-American students.

She said she was committed to providing high quality programs for “newcomer” immigrant students and special education students and that the district will work to hire a stable teacher corps that is reflective of the city´s demographics.

The district will work to improve academic quality, but the role of the central office is not to micromanage school sites. There has to “more team-building,” she said.  “ When we try to tell every school how do it, that´s when we make a mistake.”

Johnson-Trammell rejected the approach that is often popular with new superintendents who promise dramatic changes and a set of quick fixes.

“Most of the problems we have are systemic problems. The tendency is to come and shake everything up,” she said, but the reality is that if the problems were that simple to solve, they would already have been solved.

“We´ve shook up a lot in this district, and that´s part of the reason we´re in the shape we´re in,” she said.

While some people point to the possibility of closing schools as a way to reduce the district´s budget gap, she pledged that no schools would be closed without careful study and consultation with school communities.
Many students, teachers and community members complain about instability at flatland schools, where programs, teachers and principals come and go every year or two.

“We have to support (and train) principals and teachers so they can improve,” she said. “We have to develop the talent in our district so people stay.”

With a deep commitment to equity, the district will have to continue to work “to disrupt our implicit bias that´s inherent” in all public school systems, she said.

Published August 10, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Report: OUSD Spends Too Much on Top Administrators, Not Enough for Schools

Parent Zaineb Alomari of Community United Elementary School spoke at the Board of Education meeting Wedenesday night, calling on boardmembers to protect schools and students. Parent El Ham Omar translated for Alomari. Photo by Ken Epstein

Parent Zaineb Alomari of Community United Elementary School spoke at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, calling on boardmembers to protect schools and students. Parent El Ham Omar translated for Alomari. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein


As the Oakland Unified School District prepares to slash spending and make large budget cuts in the next 18 months to keep from going into the red, teachers and members of the school community are discussing the finding of a report commissioned by the district that finds OUSD has a top-heavy administration, spending more and its central office and less on instruction at schools than comparable districts.

The district last year paid nearly $455,000 to Educational Research Services (ERS)–a national nonprofit organization–to provide a “robust picture of resource use within the district.” A preliminary report was released in June.

Picolia Manigo

Picolia Manigo

ERS researchers found that “OUSD spends a smaller share of its resources on instruction than national benchmarks, which is partially driven by high central office spending.”

According to the report, OUSD in 2014-2015 spent $420 million on its pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, which seems like a lot of money.

But compared to other school districts examined by ERS, OUSD spending on students is 25 percent below average, $35 million less than what would be expected for a district of its size.

Looking at emerging findings, the report said, “At $11,400 per student, OUSD’s total investment in operating pre-K to (grade) 12 is $24 million lower than its total per pupil spending level would suggest.”

At the same time, spending on instruction at the school level is $35 million lower than total per pupil spending in comparison districts.

The cost of the central office is high in Oakland. The district spends about $325 per student or about $11.4 million more on central administration, compared with other school districts.

Factors contributing to the district’s failure to invest in schools and instruction, according to the report, include 370 central office administrators, 120 more than in comparison districts.

The ERS researchers found that the district has two times as many upper level positions as other districts, “though within each position level salaries are lower than comparisons.”

In addition, ERS said, benefits for top administrators in OUSD cost 50 percent more per employee than other districts.

ERS also minimized the impact to the district’s budget of small, under-enrolled schools.

"We need teachers, we need equity," said Castlemont High School junior  Karla Briseño, speaking at Wednesday night´s board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

“We need teachers, we need equity,” said Castlemont High School junior Karla Briseño, speaking at Wednesday night´s board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

Under-enrolled schools cost the district $7 million, which is only about 1.7 percent of the OUSD budget.

“The financial implications” are “not as significant” as the other district’s other program spending, report said.

At school sites, parents and school communities are feeling the lack of supplies and staff due to the limited budget for instructional resources.

And now as the district attempts to eliminate a $22 million budget shortfall, the schools are becoming more alarmed.

School communities came out in large numbers Wednesday night a board meeting to protest the administration’s decision to eliminate most of their schools’ budgeted funds for the remainder of the school year.

The board is also backing a plan to cut $14 million in next year’s budget or to close or merge small schools’ in the 2018-2019 school year.

A staff member at a small Oakland school told the board, “We are a school that serves kids, and we do it because we are small,” pointing out that at her school, every teacher knows every student by name and can give students personal attention.

Pecolia Manigo of the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) called on the board not to cut school site programs.

The decision to limit spending at “ultimately mean that school sites cannot spend their dollars, which means there are cuts to schools this year,” she said.

The budget shortfall is a “mistake on the part of the district and the superintendent, and as a result, the schools are paying for that mistake,” Manigo continued.

Zaineb Alomari, a parent at Community United Elementary School spoke in Arabic through a translator to the board. “We need to protect our schools and students. We need to make it better for our children,” she said.

Others argued that while some of the top central office employees who were hired in the last couple of years can easily be eliminated, there are others who are necessary, such as gardeners, buildings and grounds staff who do repairs, truck drivers who deliver supplies and payroll department staff.

“The worker bees are very important,” said a Fremont High School teacher.

The school district did not respond to questions about the ERS report.



Posted January 27, 2017

Office of Civil Rights Says School District Discriminated Against Autistic Student- nine-year-old was held face down and kept in seclusion

By Ken Epstein

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has found that the Oakland Unified School District discriminated against a nine-year-old student with autism, placing him at a private special education school where he was repeatedly held face down and kept in seclusion.

In the 11 months that Stuart Candell attended Anova Center for Education in Concord, he was restrained 92 times, held face down for up to an hour and a half at a time.

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Stuart Candell

OCR’s investigation found that OUSD knew about but did little to address the excessive use of prone restraint.

Under a resolution agreement with OCR, Oakland Unified agreed to no longer send students to private special education schools that use prone restraints on district students and to hire an expert to teach staff positive behavior intervention and train staff on the harmful effects of restraint and seclusion.

“I am thrilled with OCR’s decision,” said Bonnie Candell, mother of Stuart, who is now 12 years old.

“I saw how being restrained negatively affected my son, caused him to cry and have suicidal thoughts,” she said. “I am happy that other Oakland kids will not have to go through what my son did. “

According to the school district’s statement on the settlement. “After collaborating directly with (OCR), OUSD is actively complying with the terms of the resolution, which OUSD and OCR believe will positively impact OUSD’s students with special needs who are placed in non-public schools.”

OUSD has also agreed to hire an outside trauma expert to provide Stuart with mental health treatment to deal with the consequences of his mistreatment, as well as compensatory services and tutoring.


Bonnie and Stuart Candell

Anova operates three campuses in the Bay Area. There are no OUSD students currently at the Concord campus, but there are a few district students at a different Anova campus.

In a statement on Aug. 4, Anova said the OCR investigation report was not a public document and that the school had not received a copy. “Once available, we will carefully consider the findings of the report,” the statement said.

When OUSD placed Stuart at Anova Center in 2013, with the consent of his parents, he was described as an intellectually gifted student with autism, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Anova specializes in managing the behavior of high functioning children with autism.

According to the OCR complaint letter, dated June 24, federal investigators found that the school did follow the student’s Individualized Education Program (IED) but “utilized Anova´s own methods of behavior modification, which Anova used on all of its students.”

Over the child’s 11 months at the school, staff held him face down 92 times for a total of 2,200 minutes. The longest time he was held down 93 minutes, and the average duration was 29 minutes.

He was held in a resource room that had no furniture, only a mat. “There were no windows that let in natural light and only one small window in the door to the room,” the letter said.

The reasons the student was restrained included “not following directions,”“pushing desks” ripping up assignments,” “too much silly” and “non-compliance,” the letter said.

Once in the resource room, a child would be held down until he demonstrated “ a calm body and quiet voice.”

Staff held the student face down and pressed his arms and legs down into a mat on the floor, the letter said. Usually two alternating staff members would cup their hands over the long bones of the student, “pressing their fingertips into the mat to maintain the hold.”

Until the student became sufficiently calm, he would not be allowed to use the restroom or have a break for food in water.

“Anova staff acknowledged that the student would spend most of the school day in the resource room, and the student was out of the classroom more often than in the classroom,” according to the OCR letter.

Suge Lee, Attorney for Disability Rights California, the agency that filed the OCR complaint on behalf of the family, said that when she talked to Stuart, he remembers “how horrible (the experience) was” at the school.

He is pleased, however, “that he has made some difference” for other children, she said.

When Bonnie Candell approached the legal agency seeking help, said Lee, “It was clear that something and inappropriate and unacceptable was happening.. We represented the family to get a placement where Stuart wasn’t going to be subjected to this treatment. “

According to Lee, “Stuart would come home saying they were holding him down, that his arm hurt and his chest hurt. When the mom talked to the school and the district, she was reassured that this program was going to work, but it was going to get worse before it got to better.”

Lee explained why Stuart’s mom was reluctant to complain at first. “When you have a kid whose has a serious behavior (issues), and has been removed form several schools, you feel your choices are limited and you want to put your faith in someone.” Lee said.

According to Lee, prone physical restraint of students is legal in California and other some other students and Disability Rights California is working to change the law.

Opinion: Violence Against Students by Oakland Schools’ Staff Must Stop



By Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

A disturbing new video has surfaced showing security guards at Fremont High in Oakland roughing up and handcuffing a student in the school’s office.

The school district is saying the Jan. 8 video may not show what it seems to show. The district says the 16-year-old student was acting strangely, was a danger to himself and had to be restrained.

But what we see in the video is a Latino student acting calmly and trying to walk out of the office door when he was manhandled by a School Security Officer who began hitting him and pushed him into a room, where they were joined by several other officers. A few moments later, we see the young man being taken out of the side room in handcuffs.

This is not a new occurrence for Fremont High and the Oakland Unified School District. A school security camera last year recorded a Latino student also being beaten up by security guards at Fremont High in the main office.

Earlier at Oakland High School, a camera caught a security guard attacking a student in a wheelchair.

Scene of video of Fremont High School's office where school security officer had a confrontation with student. Screen shot courtesy of KGO-TV.

Scene of video of Fremont High School’s office where school security officer had a confrontation with student. Screen shot courtesy of KGO-TV.

As a lifelong educator, Oakland resident and community activist, I think it is fair to say that a systemic, endemic problem exists in Oakland Unified. The videos are capturing Latino students, often special education students, being brutalized – not out of the public eye in the parking lot or behind the gym – but in the main office of the school.

And from what we witness in the videos, nobody intervened to stop the assaults.

This kind of behavior may be shocking news to people in our community, but you can be sure the students at our schools know about it and many have experienced it.

If this kind of violence is condoned against our children, we would have to be naïve to believe the school system enforces a respectful, humane educational environment in the classrooms and that all of our students – especially our special educational students – are given opportunities to be successful.

Of course, there are many decent and humane teachers, administrators and security officers who love their students and dedicate their lives to education.

But do they have the power to change this system? Do they have the ability to intervene when our students are brutalized by those in authority?

Do those with the experience and the humanity have the opportunity to select and train the inexperienced teachers, administrators and consultants who at present troop through our schools for six months, a year or two years without a clue about our students and the complex multicultural diversity of student needs in our community.

Last year, after the last incident at Fremont, the Latino Education Network (LEN), of which I am member, submitted a list of questions and concerns to the district, but we never received a response.

The concerns were:

School Security Officers (SSOs) lack leadership and high professional standards;

A lot is expected of the SSOs in terms of stopping violence and maintaining safety at a school site, but they lack training in issues of how to work with students with learning disabilities, cultural and language differences, and angry or upset students.

The security force is not diverse, or multicultural in its makeup, or have enough bilingual personnel to help students in a crisis;

The security force lacks proportional Latinos and Spanish speaking officers in its ranks and in the leadership from the superintendent’s cabinet to the program operations.

The district administration talks in speeches, and press releases about “Equity and Redesign” of schools, and though the words are bold, the reality is that our children are suffering, living in the margins and are often excluded from the benefits of the mainstream academic programs.

At this point, I think it is clear that the school security force should be temporarily disbanded and totally reorganized.

A group of parents, students and community activists (especially high school students and members of youth organizations) should be established – not handpicked by administrative staff – to create guidelines and oversee the creation of a new “Peace keepers “security force that protects and supports students and are integrated into the academic programs of the district, not just Fremont High School alone, but throughout the district.


Reprinted from the Oakland Post, January 29, 2016 (




Black Students Demand School District Take Steps to Reduce Racism at Berkeley High

By Ken Epstein

In the wake of a racist, violent threat and a one-day walkout by most of the student body at Berkeley High School (BHS), the school’s Black Student Union is demanding that the school board and district administration act immediately to reduce the level of racism on campus, create a safe place at the school for African American students and enhance the teaching of African American studies.

Nebeyat Zekaryas

Nebeyat Zekaryas

The demands were presented to the board and Supt. Donald Evans at the Dec. 9 board meeting by Black Student Union (BSU) Co-Presidents Nebeyat Zekaryas and Alecia Harger.

Zekaryas told the board that the BSU is raising its demands “in light of the terroristic messages left on a Berkeley High computer on Nov. 4, 2015 and in light of the continued instances of systemic and interpersonal racism that plague our school.”

“We demand that history curriculum in grades K through 12 be amended to include Black history and an accurate view of colonialism … African history up to the present day, the history of the Black people in the Americas, including but not limited to enslavement, the civil rights movement and historically significant Black people outside of equality movements,” said Zekaryas.

Alecia Harger

Alecia Harger

“Black history (should) be taught as an important and relevant piece of world history rather than its own independent subject that is relegated to a semester of ethnic studies,” she said.

“It is insulting to condense all history of nonwhite people into an ethnic studies class,” she said. “It is essential that Black students are educated on this history in its entirety – Black students should not be expected to excel in an institution that gives us knowledge where we can only see our ancestors as slaves.”

The BSU is also demanding full funding for the Berkeley High’s African American Studies Department. “This funding (should) allow for the continuation and betterment of all currently running programs,” Zekaryas said.

BSU Co-President Harger told the board the BSU is demanding that the district create and fund a Black Resource Center on campus.

The Black Resource Center would be a location where Black students can congregate and (find) support for any issue that we may face,” said Harger.

“This center would become a permanent school fixture until Black students regularly have the same test scores and are graduating at the same rate as white students,” she said.

The BSU wants Berkeley Unified to create a committee to recruit and retain Black staff throughout the district.

“We demand that this committee include representatives of Berkeley elementary, middle and high schools, along with members of the Berkeley High BSU,” said Harger.

The BSU also wants the district to institute comprehensive racial sensitivity training for all Berkeley High faculty and staff, she said. “(The) training (should) be ongoing and not be limited to a single professional development day.”

“Black students cannot be expected to feel safe in our classrooms or on our campus if Berkeley High School staff is not equipped to discuss or handle issues of racism or racial bias.” said Harger.

The BSU wants the district administration to begin implementing the demands within the next three to six months and to receive an official response from Supt. Evans no later than Dec. 16.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, December 18, 2015 (