6 Arrested During Protest at Oakland USD School Board Meeting
The protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations against public school closures and mergers due to decreased enrollment and state funding reduction.
The Oakland Unified School District is being condemned by parents and school groups for its police officers’ handling of protesters at a school board meeting Wednesday night.
Six people were arrested at the meeting at La Escuelita Elementary School after protesters jumped over and toppled barriers put up as a precaution in front of a stage where board members sat, reports CBS Local.
Video from the meeting shows a protester jumping over the barrier and others toppling it after a parent finished giving her statement during the public comment period. Board members were immediately vacated from the gymnasium and officers handcuffed some of the protesters while others were pushed or hit with batons, raising criticism of the officers’ responses.
After the room was cleared, board members resumed the meeting, which was live-streamed to screens in the auditorium. Attendees were allowed to continue to speak.
The protest, organized by Oakland is Not for Sale, a coalition made up of teachers, staff, parents and students, is the latest in a series of demonstrations against public school closures and mergers.
The school board has identified as many as 24 schools that may close, indicating enrollment has decreased significantly in recent years, leading to a reduction in state funding.
The protesters have argued the closures are unnecessary and have raised concerns about the large number of charter schools in the district. Approximately 27% of the district’s students attend 45 charter schools — the highest proportion of any large district in the state, according to KTVU.
Since the school board voted to close Kaiser Elementary School on Sept. 11, demonstrators have disrupted three school board meetings, as well as a joint school board and Oakland City Council meeting on Monday. The previous demonstrations did not lead to violence.
Parent Saru Jayaraman said police pulled her arms behind her back and used a pain compliance hold on her shoulder. Officers then picked her up and carried her out of the building where the was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
On Thursday, Jayaraman said she was bruised and is using crutches and a knee immobilizer for a torn ACL and MCL.
“I am a tiny person who does not require four police officers to hold me to the ground and carry me out,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot of force to hurt me, which is what happened.”
The California Teachers Association (CTA) also condemned the officers’ responses.
“There is no room for these actions in our schools or anywhere in society. We hold responsible the OUSD Board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell for creating the atmosphere that led to police officers wildly swinging batons at unarmed teachers, parents and students, causing physical injury and emotional distress,” the group wrote in a statement. “They should be free to speak up on behalf of all students without fear of violent attacks.”
School district police Chief Jeff Godown defended the officers’ actions, including the use of batons.
“Officers were using enough force to keep that crowd from pushing forward,” Godown said, adding one officer and two security guards were also injured during the altercation. “The officers were using enough force to keep those protesters off that stage.”
The CTA is urging OUSD to immediately:
- Enact a moratorium on all planned and future school closures;
- Issue a public apology to students, parents and educators for the use of police barricades, over-policing
- Defund the OUSD police force and redirect funds toward counselors, nurses and other supports
- Immediately suspend, investigate and discipline involved officers
The coalition is also seeking a moratorium on school closures until after the 2020 election, when restrictions on property taxes for corporations may be repealed, and more financial oversight as the district has a history of fiscal mismanagement. They are also questioning an investment of millions of dollars by the county into a new juvenile detention center.
Jayaraman and other injured protesters plan to sue the district for assault and civil rights violations.