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A Father’s Perspective on School Closure

In a political landscape that is often dominated by incendiary comments to redirect the narrative around school closures in Oakland, logic and reason prevailed at the end of the day. Closing a school where three percent of the Black children read on grade level is a difficult, but rational decision to make. The schools that fall into this category have not been failing for just a few years, but for decades. As an Oakland native, a father and a Black man, I strongly believe that we have to move away from a school system of the haves and have nots, to one where every student has access to what they need to achieve. 

My own education story exemplifies the risks Black families in Oakland face today. Two of my siblings dropped out from Castlemont and were unable to earn a high school diploma. As a result, my parents used a different address to make sure I could attend a better Oakland high school. Today, I refuse to let down my own children and they attend both district and charter schools in Oakland. 

We can see in the clear light of day that there are elected officials sitting on Boards right now that want the status quo to continue. Two of OUSD school board directors have openly claimed that they are all about racial justice and equity, yet they refuse to recognize the injustice and inequity of the district-run schools that have failed students of color for decades.

There are board members who have publicly denounced Oakland’s public charter schools which serve 80% students of color and 80% low income families. And as a result of their short sighted views, they have also denounced the Black families that chose charter schools for their children. I know first hand there is no perfect school or system, and there are both good and bad traditional public schools and in public charter schools in Oakland. 

But it is obvious that there are currently far too many schools in Oakland which has twice the number of schools as other districts its size and even more concerning, no real systematic effort to address ever widening gaps in Black and Brown childrens educational achievement rates. The only real way to address this now is for our elected leaders to be accountable for the mess that this city’s educational landscape has become and make the hard choices that will lead to real change. 

Instead we have had to endure board members who disrupt the democratic process by attacking other board members and steering the narrative away from quality. They have rallied public comment on how closing these schools will devastate the communities their students come from. I have a news flash for those same people: It is our public schools’ systemic failures that have devastated the community! 

When we are talking about education in Oakland, far too often the conversation is dominated by loudest voices in the room. These outspoken advocates love to claim that they speak for your children and mine, but I am quite capable of speaking for myself. Board members should be engaging directly with FIA and our parent and youth leaders so they can hear from all of the people that they were elected to serve. If elected officials are truly here to serve on behalf of the students of Oakland, the decisions about school closure or consolidation would be based on student performance data, not the politics of district and charter schools. 

It’s true that systemic racism may have led us to the current landscape, but claiming to champion the cause of justice and racial equity just to keep a school open  when two percent of Black and Brown children that attend that school can read and do math at grade level. How long are we going to allow the voice and power of parents to be ignored? As a father, I will keep on lifting my voice for our elected officials to shift the narrative back to school quality and the future of Oakland’s youth! 

Michael McDaniel, Jr. is an Oakland native, a father of four children and the Lead Family Organizer and Political Director for Families in Action for Quality Education