Category: Education/Schools/Youth

Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against School District on Behalf of English Learner Students

By Ken Epstein

Several local Latino organizations filed a complaint this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights against the Oakland Unified School District for failing to provide adequate education to English Language Learner students.

Latino Education Network spokesman Jorge Lerma hold a copy of the complaint that was filed this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Photo by Ken Epstein

Latino Education Network spokesman Jorge Lerma hold a copy of the complaint that was filed this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Photo by Ken Epstein

The complaint alleges that English Learners are systematically deprived of their rights to equal education under the law, citing evidence based on a review of Oakland’s English-Language programs conducted for OUSD by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

The Stanford study, which was released earlier this year, “revealed deep and troubling practices and conditions in the English Language Learner program in Oakland,” said Jorge Lerma, spokesman for the Latino Education Network.

“The complaint says OUSD has participated in systematic and multigenerational non compliance in regard to federal and state regulations, which in turn has negatively impacted English Language Learner students for many decades, “ said Lerma.

As a result, he said, “OUSD has created a dual system of education in Oakland, one for English speakers and one for English Language Learners.”

The complaint has been filed, he said, because the “community has been patient and has believed in the good will of school and governmental leaders with no meaningful results.”

Among its specific allegations, the complaint says:

Students are not counseled to take courses they need nor prepared to pass the required academic classes that are required to enter the university, causing many students to end up dropping out of school or not being prepared to go to college;

Many classes that were labeled as “bilingual” were in fact conducted entirely or nearly all in English, disregarding students’ individual needs and level of understanding;

Many students who no longer need English Language instruction or needed more advanced instruction were left to languish in programs that did not challenge them;

The Stanford study found that in 43 percent of middle and high school classrooms and 37 percent of elementary classroom, fewer than one-fourth of the students interacted verbally at last once during a class session. However, the study notes that “academic discussion” is a prime method for teaching English;

English Language Development teachers tend to be newer and have less in-service training than other teachers to prepare them to understand their students’ needs and the cultural context in which the children live.

According to the Stanford study, 30 percent of OUSD students are English Language Learners, and 49 percent speak a language other than English at home.

The district’s demographics last year, when the study was done, were 38.1 Latino, 30.6 percent African American, 14.1 percent Asian and 11.8 percent white.

The complaint was filed Tuesday by the Latino Education Network, the Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland, (ECHO), which has been active in the city for more than 20 years, and the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, founded in 1965.

At press time, the school district had not responded to the Post’s request for a comment.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 19, 2015 (

Board of Education Members Balk at Placing Charter High School on Westlake Middle School Campus

The Westlake community went to the June 10 school board meeting to oppose placing a charter high school on their campus.

The Westlake community went to the June 10 school board meeting to oppose placing a charter high school on their campus. Photos by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Several members of the Oakland Board of Education are balking at a proposal of the Oakland Unified School District administration to place a charter high school on the same campus as West Lake Middle School, leading the board president to table the motion without discussion, the Post has learned.

OUSD General Counsel Jackqueline Minor and Deputy David Montes de Oca explain the district's position at meeting at Westlake Middle School. Photo b Ken Epstein

OUSD General Counsel Jackqueline Minor and Deputy David Montes de Oca explain the district’s position at meeting at Westlake Middle School.

The proposal to place 185 students and eight staff of American Indian Charter High School in eight portable classrooms on the middle school campus was on the agenda to be decided on the Wednesday, June 10 school board meeting but did not come up for discussion.

“Staff needs to do more due diligence on the relocation of American Indian Model Schools,” said Board President James Harris, tabling the proposal.

However, board members told the Post that staff wants more time to lobby the board to back a plan that is extremely unpopular with the Westlake community.

Westlake is located on Harrison Avenue near Lake Merritt and draws students from West Oakland and the Chinatown/downtown area.

At a tumultuous meeting at the school on June 8, parents, teachers, students and members of the Westlake came out in force to condemn the move.

Administrators said the district was required to give space the school, and Westlake was the only good choice.

Therefore, they said, the decision was up to the board, but was all but a done deal.

However, parents did not go along. They objected to putting high school students on the same campus with students who are 12 years old.

Some parents did not want more sophisticated 17-year-olds on the same campus as their young special education students.

Vocal meeting at Westlake.

Crowded meeting at Westlake.

They did not like the idea that the school would have to have double lunch periods in the cafeteria and would split the use of the school library with the charter.

They suggested that the charter be moved to nearby Lakeview School, across from the Grand Lake Theater, which is currently closed and being for district offices. Staff said Lakeview was not possible but did not convince the parents.

Earlier, the district had tried to move an American Indian charter to Bella Vista Elementary School, but that plan ran into organized opposition from parents, teachers and the community.

Ultimately, administrators withdrew the plan to use Bella Vista. They said it was because they had to remove portables from the school’s playground, and therefore would not be enough space.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 19, 2015 (

Oakland School District to Tear Down West Oakland School to Build Industrial Kitchen

Community members who are opposed to the Marcus Foster kitchen project include West Oakland residents (left to right) Lynne Horiuchi, Jeff Baker, and Madeline Wells. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Community members who are opposed to the Marcus Foster kitchen project include West Oakland residents (left to right) Lynne Horiuchi, Jeff Baker, and Madeline Wells. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ken Epstein

Despite vocal opposition of some community residents, the Oakland Unified School District is moving ahead with plans to demolish Marcus Foster School in West Oakland and build an industrial-style kitchen to provide healthy meals to schools throughout the city.

Some community members are angry that the plans for replacing the school at West and 29th streets have been underway since 2012, and they only learned of them in January.

Some are concerned that a school building will destroyed in a community that has lost many of it public buildings and has long been short-changed by the city in the allocation of public services.

They are also saying the new kitchen will bring pollution producing trucks into an area that already is burdened with extreme levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

The school at present houses a few special education classes and special education administrative offices. The gymnasium is open for community use.

The district for the past few months has been holding public engagement meetings with community members. In the meeting, district staff have explained the project’s community benefits and their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of trucks and the industrial kitchen.

Marcus Foster is scheduled to close this month, and a public hearing will be held in September, followed by asbestos removal and the demolition of the school this year.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 16, 2015 (

OUSD’s New Bond Policy Raises Concerns About School Construction

School construction project in OUSD

School construction project in OUSD

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District has adopted a new policy that will allow it to revisit how it will spend its construction bond funds, raising concerns that some building projects might be left in the lurch as the new administration moves ahead on its own priorities.

Mike Hutchinson

Mike Hutchinson

The new policy is designed to establish “criteria to equitably allocate bond funds for facility upgrades, modernizations and construction projects to meet strategic and programmatic goals,” according to a report to the school board at the May 27 board meeting.

The policy was developed by a 17-member committee appointed by the superintendent and approved unanimously by the school board at its May 27 meeting.

This new policy will “determine present and future planning and decisions on bond project prioritization,” according to the report presented at the board meeting.

The policy is needed because “(the district’s) needs are greater than the bonds approved by Oakland voters – we have more needs than we have money,” said Mia Settles-Tidwell, the district’s Chief of Operations and one of the leaders of the policy design committee.

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

Other leaders of the committee are Lance Jackson, Interim Chief of Facilities, Planning and Management, and Olis Simmons, president and CEO of Youth UpRising, a nonprofit agency that has two charter schools at the site of Castlemont High School in East Oakland.

A number of community members are asking what will happen to the projects already promised under the existing district facilities master plan and Measure J draft plan.

According to some people, nearly all of the remaining bond funds are already allocated, and reprioritization would require the elimination of projects already on the list.

So far not announced, the process for implementing this policy will be elaborated by administrative regulations that are considered by the superintendent to be his sole prerogative. The regulations are scheduled to be revealed at the June 10 board meeting.

The policy and regulations will determine how the district will utilize the unspent Measure J bond funds, which total $355 million, and the unspent $65 million in the Measure B bond, as well as future bonds that may be approved by Oakland voters.

One of two members of the public who spoke on this issue at the board meeting was school activist Mike Hutchinson, who provoked a strong reaction from the superintendent.

“This makes me a little bit nervous,” Hutchinson said, “because we don’t have extra money sitting out there to be reprioritized.”

“I am (worried) we going to be taking (money) away from somebody who already thinks they have their project coming,” he said. “Are we going to do that to McClymonds? Are we going to do that to Fremont? Are we going to do that to Glenview? Are we going to do that to the Foster kitchen?”

He continued: “A lot of us in the community get a little bit nervous when we see an outside consultant who has been hired to manage measure J (bond funds).” And this is the same person who is interim head of facilities, and he is the same one who is developing bond prioritization policy, Hutchinson said.

“I don´t think this passes the smell test. We have to be able to do better,” said Hutchinson.

He called on the school board to accept its responsibility to make policy. “Any prioritization of our money need to be directed by the board,” he said “If there’s ongoing to be a new committee, (it) needs to be appointed by the board, not by the superintendent. We no longer have a state administrator.”

Hutchinson told the Post he was concerned the district was preparing to shift bond money to pay for its proposed $100 million dollar headquarters project on Second Avenue.

Responding to the criticisms, Supt. Antwan Wilson said, “You can’t continue to sit here and listen to comments that are just completely inaccurate, week after week, month after month, same old thing.

He continued: ”We will send a message to one of our community members who continues to give wrong information about what an oversight committee does. This is no new process here in Oakland that deviates from anywhere else.”

By the Post’s deadline, the school district had not returned a request for answers to questions about the new policy.

To read the district’s existing Measure J spending plan, go to

To read the district’s existing list of Facilities Master Plan projects, go to

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 4, 2015 (

“Path Not Found” – Report Says Low-income Students Lack Computer Access

By Nikolas Zelinski

The Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) has released a report titled a “Path Not Found” that chronicles the lack of computer classes available to lower-income students and students of color in California high schools.pathnotfound_report_main

The report finds “the higher a school’s percentage of underrepresented students of color, the lower the likelihood of a school offering any computer science courses whatsoever.”

Nearly 75 percent of high schools with the highest percentages of underrepresented students of color offer no computer science courses, and 75 percent of high schools with the highest numbers of low-income students offer no computer science courses.

This is during a time when the tech industry is booming, and the country’s demographics are shifting. “Last fall, for the first time in history, students of color made up the majority of first graders nationwide,” according to the report.

This disparity is currently demonstrated by Google’s diversity data released last year. Combined, African Americans and Latinos only comprise five percent of the technical workforce. Other major tech companies show similar statistics.

Mitch Kapor

Mitch Kapor

Nationwide economic projections indicate that there will be more than 1.3 million job openings in computing and mathematical occupations by 2022.

During a press conference for the report, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Corporation said, “All of my experience in the tech industry leads me to believe that no great startup can come into existence without skilled software developers. Because they’re the people that transform the visions and design into working code. Software developers are completely essential to the innovation economy.”

Kapor continued, “Even here in Silicon Valley, our schools are woefully behind in preparing the next generation to acquire these skills. We’ve seen time and time again, that students who are not born into privilege are at a disadvantage compared to their more privileged peers.”

According to Dr. Julie Flapan, executive director for the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools, “Upper-income schools have what we call preparatory privilege. Students who have exposure to computers at home, after-school coding classes, or summer robotics camps, are better prepared for the advanced placement (AP) courses that are already offered at their schools.”

“This is why it’s important to expand introductory level courses across the state, to ensure that all students have equal exposure to computer science,” Flapan concluded.

Some success in achieving demographic equality includes a program recently trialed in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), in partnership with the University of California Los Angeles, and the National Science Foundation.

The equity focused curriculum called “Exploring Computer Science” shows participation directly mirrors the overall demographics of LAUSD. The course utilizes interest-based learning at its core, and uses that concept to teach web design, and coding.

To ensure computer access for underrepresented students of color, and underprivileged students, the “Path Not Found” report lists some key strategies.

One of the solutions is to make computer science count as either a mathematics course, or science high school graduation requirement.

Other methods include expanding access to in-school and out-of-school programs designed to develop computing interest among underrepresented groups; while emphasizing hands-on projects, field trips, extracurricular activities, and mentorship programs.

Also, ensure that funding prioritizes programs serving low-income students of color and other underrepresented groups.

Many members of the press conference panel explained that role-models who look like the students they are teaching is one of the biggest factors to success.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 24, 1015 (

Complaint Against Oakland Unified for “System-wide Violations of Rights of Children with Disabilities”


By Post Staff

Disability Rights of California has filed a complaint against the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on behalf of the district’s special education students, alleging that “OUSD’s policies and practices result in system-wide violations of the rights of children with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” according to the nonprofit agency.

“We are moving forward. We asked the state for a mediation process to resolve the complaint, and the state has assigned a mediator,” said Maggie Roberts, associate managing attorney at the disability rights agency, which receives federal funding to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.8954362

The agency is representing 10 named students with disabilities and a class of all special education students in the district. The complaint was filed in March with the California Department of Education.

The complaint alleges systemic failures that include not providing qualified staff; not offering special education programs and services based on disability related needs; and not providing or even budgeting funds to provide individualized accommodation such as curriculum modifications and behavioral supports to students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

disabilityequalityIn addition, the district is not meeting the needs of Limited English families, lacking staff to provide interpretation and translation services to non-English language proficient parents, who receive documents and notices in English rather than their primary language;

Further, the district has failed to provide students with mental health or behavioral needs services in the required least restrictive setting and instead placing them in segregated environments, according to the complaint.

The complaint also says OUSD’s systemic noncompliance with IDEA has a disparate impact on students of color, especially Latino students whose families are not proficient in English.

Of 5,074 OUSD students in Special Education, 1,880 are Latino, and 2,072 are African American. Together, they make up they make up 78 percent in the district’s special education program.

According to the state, about 10 percent of California students receive special education services. Most common are specific learning disabilities, such as reading difficulties, which are connected to students falling severely behind in their classes. Second most common are speech and language impairments.

One of the named complainants, TA, is a nine-year old boy in the third grade with a developmental disability.  Because OUSD did not provide TA with any services for the first seven weeks of this school year, and did not implement his legally required Individualized Education Program (IEP) during the last school year, TA’s mother requested a hearing, the complaint said.

As a result, OUSD agreed to provide the needed services. Four months later, it still has not provided TA with agreed upon services, including behavior support services, individual speech therapy, or a one-to-one aide in his classroom.

Instead, OUSD wants to move TA from his school and place him in a segregated nonpublic school, which would be his eighth placement since preschool, the complaint said.TA’s mother is frustrated by the district’s failure to assist her son, the complaint continues, quoting the child’s mother.

“My son has fallen far behind in school, and his behavior problems have gotten worse. Four months ago, the OUSD finally agreed to provide TA with all of the services he needs. OUSD is still not providing my son with what was agreed to. I don’t know what else to do to get the school district to give my son what he needs.”

According to Roberts, attorney at the agency, Disability Rights California usually files complaints on behalf of individuals. However, in this case, OUSD has long-term violations that are systemic, and district fails to implement changes even after hearings where they promised to institute remedies.

“This is unprecedented,” said Roberts in an interview with the Post, explaining that the agency has asked the state to become involved.

“The state (Department of Education) is ultimately responsible for implementing federal and state laws, and we wanted to make sure the state is aware, that even when cases went to complaint, OUSD didn’t implement settlement agreements.”

Roberts continued, “This is a problem that has been around for a long time. They have found ways to limit the programs. They do not offer services or have plans in place to deliver services.”

As a result of failure to offer adequate services, many of Oakland’s special education students drop out of school or barely graduate. “Many don’t go on to college or community college because they’re not equipped for that,” she said.

There are special education programs that exist, which OUSD could offer, that provide the latest computer technology and teachers equipped with up-to-date teaching methods.

In these programs, children of parents – particularly more affluent parents – do better in school and often go on to college.

“If the state does not do something to do to fix (these issues), and the district doesn’t do anything, then we will we will consider litigation,” said Roberts.

OUSD is well aware of these issues, she said. A 2013 report commissioned by OUSD found widespread deficiencies in its special education program, and is available at

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 23, 2015 (

Unanswered Questions as OUSD Moves Forward on Headquarters Development

How will the district pay for the project, estimated to cost $100 million?

Rendering of new OUSD headquarters complex, "Design Conception One."

Rendering of new OUSD headquarters complex, “Design Conception One.”

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving ahead with its plan to tear down the district’s old administration building on Second Avenue and East 10th Street and replace it with a new educational complex.

The district is currently looking at three separate “final conceptual designs” for the property, and all of them would contain office space for at least some administrators and their staff, a conference center and theater for parent and staff training, a student-run café, parking for some employees and a new school for Dewey Academy with a gym and multipurpose room.

Dewey at present is located nearby at Second Avenue and East 12th Street.

Additionally, one of the proposals includes keeping the façade or other parts of the old administration building. And another design proposes to build some units of housing, but staff has emphasized that these units would be affordable or for teachers, not market-rate housing.

The administration is taking the three conceptual designs to next Wednesday evening’s board meeting, hoping for board approval to move ahead with one of the designs, based on the superintendent’s recommendation.

To publicize the design proposals, the district held three meetings this week in different parts of Oakland. However, the meetings were poorly advertised, and only about six members of the public attended the first two of the events.

A number of questions remain to be answered.

Why is the district proposing to build at new campus for Dewey Academy?

Dewey was originally included in the project when the district was trying to sell the school property to Urban Core Development to add to its plan to build a luxury apartment tower adjacent to the school at East 12th and Lake Merritt Boulevard.

Building a new campus for Dewey – which is relatively new – significantly contributes to the estimated $100 million price tag for the new complex and may mean that other school construction projects would have to be scrapped.

What part of the central office administration would fit into this new complex?

According to the district, the new headquarters will contain office space for 300-350 people. However, a school district fact sheet said that in 2014, there were 940 central office staffers, though it did not break down what job classifications were part of that number.

Although the district has said one of its main goals was the consolidation of central office workers under one roof, it would seem that it will not be able accommodate everyone without continuing to send staff to satellite locations or to lay off a huge number of administrators and their support staff.

How will the district pay for this complex?

The obvious pot of money is school bond funds, but there are legal restrictions that must be observed, and most of the money may be earmarked for other projects.

Rumors are circulating that the administration may want to sell the site the old Lakeview Elementary School to developers. The district has already notified Community Schools and Student Services Department staff who work at the closed school that they will be transferred, mostly to OUSD headquarters at 10000 Broadway.

 Will there be enough parking?

The proposals call for only about a total of 400 parking places for central office staff, Dewey staff and people utilizing the conference center.

A number of staff members will be expected to take BART or bus to work. However, many staff members have duties that require them to frequently visit school sites or other off-site meetings. Some would have difficulty doing their jobs without availability of a car.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 23, 2015 (

OUSD Consultant Lance Jackson’s Company Sued in Corruption Scandal

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is paying consultant Lance Jackson to head its Facilities Planning and Management Department

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

through the district’s contract with Seville Group Inc. (SGI), while Jackson continues working as an executive of the company, whose owner, along with school board members and a superintendent of schools, pleaded guilty in a corruption scheme in a Southern California school district.

The criminal prosecutions are over, but lawsuits against Seville that came out of the case are slowly moving ahead. Sweetwater Union High School District and San Diegans for Open Government are suing Seville, along with another company, to return $26 million on the grounds that their contracts with the school district were “tainted,” by bribing public officials, and therefore invalid.

In the widely publicized case, which finally concluded last year, a school board member went to jail and a number lost their positions. The district’s superintendent went to jail and paid a fine.

The former superintendent Sweetwater Union High School District was sentenced in April 2014 to jail. Photo courtesy of San Diego station ABC Channel 10.

The former superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District  in Southern California was sentenced in June 2014 to jail. Photo courtesy of San Diego station ABC Channel 10.

According to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, “Between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants with contractors and others racking up hundreds of dollars in food and drinks at a time, in some cases reaching more than $1,000 per outing. Defendants were given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, concert tickets, theater tickets, Rose Bowl tickets, Southwest Airlines tickets and trips to Pebble Beach and Napa Valley.”

The owner and president of Seville, Rene Flores, cooperated and testified for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was on informal probation until June 20, 2 014.

In addition to his interim consulting position in the school district, Jackson serves as Chief Operating Officer of Seville, part of the company’s seven-member executive leadership team.

School construction project in OUSD

Oakland Unified School District school construction project

Seville receives $30,000 a month, an equivalent of $360,000 a year, for Jackson’s services to OUSD, part of the company’s contract to provide construction management services to the district.

Jackson’s position with the company goes back to 2002, according to Bloomberg.

Seville has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects. Jackson was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his $156,000-a-year position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Seville is being paid for Jackson’s work from school bond funds for what the district estimates is 75 percent of the work that Tim White was doing. As head of Facilities Planning and Management, Jackson oversees the expenditure of at least $435 million in taxpayer bond money.

The Southern California lawsuits are seeking the return of $26 million that SGI of Pasadena and Gilbane of Providence, R.I., received to oversee the Sweetwater district’s $644-million, voter-approved Proposition O bond program and a part of an earlier bond program.

“It was filed to recoup some of the bond (management) fees that we paid,” said Manny Rubio, public information officer of the Sweetwater school district in an interview with the Post.

State law – Government Code 1090 – prohibits officials from entering into a contract in which they have a financial interest and nullifies contracts made in violation of that law.

“The facts really aren’t in dispute. The people that received the gifts admit receiving them. Those that gave the gifts admit giving them,” said John Moot, outside legal counsel for Sweetwater, speaking in an interview with the newspaper U-T San Diego.

Responding to the lawsuit, lawyers for the contractors, Gilbane and Seville, said the district attorney’s charges were inflated, and the gifts to public officials were constitutionally protected free speech.

“Despite the rhetoric and rampant media coverage, the meager slaps on the wrist that flowed from the prosecution utterly belie (the D.A.’s) claims and prove the criminal charges were overblown and lacked evidentiary support,” the lawyers for the two companies said in court papers.

In rejecting one of the defendants’ claims, a San Diego judge in December 2014 ruled that the meals, trips and gifts were criminal acts and not constitutionally protected free speech.

Judge Eddie Sturgeon said that law the contractors cited did not apply if the conduct was illegal. He wrote that the gift were clearly meant to influence the decisions of the school officials, and the guilty pleas of the contractors and officials confirmed that what they did was illegal, according to UT-San Diego.

OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint responded to the Post’s questions about the hiring of Lance Jackson and the payments to SGI in light of the ongoing Southern California lawsuits.

“When we appointed Lance to his current position, we were aware of the investigation in San Diego,” Flint said. “We reviewed the matter to the best of our ability, and we determined that Lance was not involved in any way.”

He continued: “We retain our confidence in Lance based on that review and the caliber of work he’s done for us. We won’t hold what appears to be the actions of a few bad apples against Lance.

“Our work with SGI in general, and with Lance in particular, has been above board and extremely satisfactory. What the owners of the company may or may not have done in Southern California is not reflected in the work with OUSD or in Lance’s performance.”

Attorney Cory Briggs of San Diegans for Open Government told the Post that a trial or settlement to the case may be a year-and-a-half away. “If there’s a conflict of interest, (the companies) have to repay everything they’ve been paid,” he said.

The Post requested but at press time had not received comments from OUSD Board President James Harris or other board members, Lance Jackson or Supt. Antwan Wilson. General Counsel Jacqueline Minor was contacted but was out of the office.

Parents Fight to Keep Bilingual Class for Spanish-speaking Kindergartners

Garfield Elementary School parent leaders (L to R): Nancy Sanchez, gloria Chavez and Pedro Topete. Photo by Ken Epstein

Garfield Elementary School parent leaders (L to R): Nancy Sanchez, gloria Chavez and Pedro Topete. Photo by Ken Epstein


By Ken Epstein

Latino parent leaders have been fighting the Oakland Unified School District for the past five months to preserve the only three classes that offer instruction and support for children in Spanish at Garfield Elementary School in the Fruitvale District that is largely Latino and serves a number of newly arrived Spanish-speaking immigrants.

According to current district data, 196 of Garfield Elementary’s 588 students are Spanish-language English Learners. The school is located at 1640 22nd Ave. near San Antonio Park.

Garfield Elementary School

Garfield Elementary School

Parent leaders began meeting with the school’s principal and started pushing for meetings with district administrators as soon as they learned in January that the district was planning to terminate the school’s only Kindergarten Spanish bilingual class next year as a step toward gradually phasing out the entire K through second-grade program.

At one of the first meetings, “ We asked why do you guys want to remove the program? Our kids need the program,” said parent leader Gloria Chavez.

“They listened to us, they paid attention to us. At the end of the meeting, nothing was resolved,” she said.

Allen Smith

Allen Smith

“We have met five times with different people in the district. We don’t see any support for what we are fighting for,” said Pedro Topete, another of the parent leaders

The parents, Topete, Chavez and Nancy Sanchez, are officers of the school’s English Learner Advisory Committee, which according to the district website, serves to ensure that the needs of English Learners are addressed and as a way for families for whom English is a second language to get in contact and stay involved with the school.

The parent leaders met repeatedly with Principal Nima Tahai; Tahai’s boss Network Supt. Sondra Aguilera; and Nicole Knight, executive director of the English Learner and Multilingual Achievement Office.

Also attending several of the meetings were Boardmembers Roseanne Torres and Aimee Eng.

The last meeting was on April 13 between 50 to 60 parents at the school and Allen Smith, Chief of Schools and part of Supt. Antwan Wilson’s inner circle.

In a letter dated two days after the meeting, April 15, Smith wrote:

“After reviewing all of the information and listening to families at our meeting on April 13, 2015, we have decided not to offer a Kindergarten Spanish Bilingual class this upcoming school year, 2015-2016 at Garfield. We understand that this decision is hard for the families that have been involved in advocating for the program.”

“Although we believe in offering Spanish Bilingual programs in our district, we do not believe that offering a program at every single school is sustainable,” according to Smith.

The district’s rationale for terminating the program constantly changed during the months of meetings with different officials. The parents said that though the argument may have changed, the goal of shutting down their classes has remained constant, making them believe the district is not telling them the truth and is betraying their trust.

At the first meetings, the parents said they were told that the classes were under-enrolled, and they were accused of selfishly wanting something for their children that resulted in larger classes for other students and teachers.

But, under-enrollment turned out not to be the issue. The parents soon learned that staff in the school’s office had been instructed to tell parents who wanted to enroll their children in the classes that they were already full.

Topete contacted 24 parents who wanted to enroll in the program and submitted the list to the district. In response, district staff contracted the people on the list to tell them they could go to another school if they wanted a class with a Spanish-speaking instructor.

These parents were offered the right to transfer to Manzanita Community School, International Community School or an East Oakland charter school.

A number of parents felt that they were being intimidated by the district with threats that they would have to move to another school if they want a teacher who can explain homework and assignments to children in Spanish.

They also said that many of the parents, perhaps most, do not have access to cars. They cannot arrange for their children to arrive on time at different schools.

They say they like Garfield. They are part of a family there, and they contribute to the school. For some parents, these are the only people they know in this country.

According to Smith’s letter, a bilingual K-2 program is not as academically effective as a K-5 program offered at other schools. “Principal Tahai will continue to work with individual families to make the best choice between staying at Garfield or transferring to a Spanish bilingual program,” he said.

Smith did not say which of Garfield’s English Learner students would be eligible to transfer to a bilingual Spanish program and which of those would achieve better academically if they had bilingual instructors – only the parent leaders at Garfield or all of the school’s 196 English Learner students.

Latino educators point out that the student population of OUSD is over 40 percent Latino and growing. The refusal to offer these students appropriate instruction at their neighborhood school, they say, seems to what happens to poor children and immigrant students in the flatlands.

The needs and wishes of affluent parents and their children at hill schools are not dismissed in the same way, according to these longtime educators in Oakland.

The Garfield parent leaders sent a request two weeks ago to meet with Supt. Wilson but have not heard from him.

“There’s a growing feeling of intimidation from the principal and the district,” said parent leader Sanchez. “Parents feel (officials) are retaliating against those who are asking for their rights. So many parents are already holding back from making comments because they are afraid something will happen to their kids.”

Refusing to be intimidated, the parent leaders say they have already filed a discrimination complaint with the district and are making a complaint to the state.

“We are hoping to hear from other parents who are going through similar experiences,” said Sanchez. “We are willing to get together with them and give them support.”

The Garfield parents can be reached by email at

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Teachers Vote to Authorize Work Actions, Strike Against School District

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

By Post Staff

Oakland teachers have voted to authorize a strike against the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) if they do not settle their contract by the time school opens next fall.

At a membership meeting last Wednesday, attended by nearly 700 union members, 651 teachers, or 94 percent, voted in favor of giving the union’s Executive Board the power to call a strike.

The bargaining teams of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and OUSD met this week and have more bargaining sessions scheduled. The union represents about 2,400 teachers and other educators

“It’s about being prepared,” said OEA President Trish Gorham.

OEA President Trish Gorham

OEA President Trish Gorham

“The strike vote means we are standing strong behind our bargaining team. We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” she said.

“The main point is to get a sense of the membership and to have the OEA Executive Board to have the authority to do the organizing over the summer and to be able to take work actions, up to and including a strike if necessary.”

Before the union decides to go on strike, it must first go through a legal process that includes declaring impasse, mediation, and fact finding, which take a minimum of two months, said Gorham.

One of the outstanding issues is a wage increase that would be sizable enough to bring district teachers up to the median of teacher salaries in Alameda County.

Both sides agree that salaries in Oakland have been in the cellar for years, impacting the district’s ability to recruit and retain teachers and contributing to OUSD’s chronically high teacher turnover rate.

The district has offered a 10.5 percent raise over three years. OEA believes there is a possibility of a larger raise than offered this year based on increased funding from the state that will be revealed about May 15.

Another important sticking point in negotiations is Article 12, which covers transfers and assignments of teachers.

The district is seeking “flexibility” in the assignment of teachers who are involuntarily transferred or whose jobs are eliminated, for example when a school closes.

The district’s original proposal minimizes the importance of veteran teachers’ successful classroom experience and loyalty to the district, according to many teachers.

“We maintain seniority should play a deciding role when teachers are displaced through circumstances beyond their control,” said Gorham, who emphasized that “good faith bargaining” is continuing

“The OEA bargaining team has been voicing our concerns during bargaining sessions, and some of those concerns have been addressed,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (