OUSD Policing and School Equity in the News
by Ken Katz
Twice previously we have shared seventeen-year-old Samuel Getachew’s spoken word poem about “Barbecue Betty” that won him last year’s Youth Poet Laureate title, and last month we also took note of an opinion piece he’d just published in the Washington Post. This month, the East Bay Express shared a Samuel Getachew essay that focused initially on the Oakland School Police Department, which the Oakland Unified District Board has since voted to eliminate. We invited District 2 School Board Member Aimee Eng to comment on that decision. Yesterday evening, she emailed this response:
On Wednesday June 24, 2020, the Oakland Unified School District School Board unanimously voted (7-0) to eliminate the Oakland School Police Department in front of nearly 700 community members after nearly a decade of advocacy by the Black Organizing Project (BOP) and a visible city-wide campaign in recent weeks following the untimely death of George Floyd.
Parenthetically, we’d heard quite some time ago that Crocker Highlands Elementary School has an Equity Committee but didn’t know any of the details. Samuel’s thoughts on the subject of equity prompted us to reach out to Pamela Erickson (the recently appointed Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Law & Society at Berkeley Law School) who co-chairs the Crocker Equity Committee with Barbara Denianke, a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
This is what Pamela had to say about the group’s overall mission:
We understand that there are deep inequities in the Oakland Unified School system and are committed to addressing them. While we have tried to take some steps in the past to address issues in our own school and in the broader community, we understand that we have a long way to go and are committed to doing the work.
The measures they’re taking to achieve these ends are spelled out in detail on the Equity Committee website but Pamela singled out the following:
The school site plan names improving academic outcomes and a sense of belonging for African-American and disabled students in particular as a priority. Some of the accompanying actions include continued professional development for teachers regarding culturally responsive instruction, intentionally hiring teachers and staff of color, and diversifying our classroom and school libraries. The Equity Committee continues to support these efforts.
A subset of the Equity Committee is Soulful Gatherings, an affinity group for families with Black and African-American children and a highlight of the school year is Mosaic Day, when the Crocker Highlands community celebrates the diversity and sense of belonging that they foster and encourage. The day’s events feature performances, traditional ethnic clothing, and artwork concluding with a big potluck dinner in the evening.
In 2016, the Equity Committee (founded circa 2012) acknowledged that the majority of Oakland schools lack the capacity to fundraise large sums of money, so they made an ongoing commitment to sharing resources. In the past four years, the committee has donated $100,000 (mostly from their annual fundraising auction) to support students through donations to the A to Z Fund and the Equity Fund for OUSD.
- Crocker Highlands Principal Joci Kelleher’s “Anti-Racist Letter to Our Community“
- The Oaklandside – “How Oakland Unified School District Got It’s Own Police Force“
- Reason magazine – “Major Cities Wrestle With Proposals to End School Policing“