Oakland Teachers Push For Reparations

Oakland teachers and the Oakland Unified School District have agreed to pursue a plan for “reparations” for Black students amid an ongoing strike. The teachers’ union had initiated the strike earlier this month, demanding salary increases and policy changes. One such policy change included the establishment of a “Reparations for Black Students Taskforce.”

The task force aims to transform any school with more than 40% Black student enrollment into a “Black Thriving Community School” through increased staffing and funding. However, questions have arisen over the constitutionality of this plan, given that California law prohibits governmental discrimination by race. The task force will comprise 21 members, including union, district representatives and students.

The strike’s backdrop is a school district in crisis, with Oakland public schools performing poorly on standardized tests. Only about 20% of Black students meet or exceed state standards in English and a mere 11% in math. Some parents, frustrated by the strike, have taken matters into their hands, crossing picket lines to teach.

Amid these challenges, there are differing viewpoints on the school board about the so-called “common good demands.” Moreover, these proposals often involve issues beyond the classroom, such as green spaces on campus, shared governance, or student homelessness.

Oakland School Board Member Valarie Bachelor has received hundreds of emails from families, educators, and community members, urging the district to negotiate around these common good demands. She cites the district’s unused properties as potential resources to address some of these concerns.

However, OUSD School Board President Mike Hutchinson notes that these items fall outside the scope of what the board is required to negotiate, indicating a division within the school board.

Bachelor believes they can navigate these issues with careful contract language to protect the district. Yet, without the board’s authorization, these common good proposals are stalling the negotiations between the union and the district.

Vilma Serrano, a chief negotiator for the union, insists that the reparation initiative is not about handing out money to Black students. Instead, it’s about directly investing in historically Black schools that have been neglected.

Still, this ambitious reparations plan is a complex issue with implications that extend far beyond the classroom. As the Oakland teachers’ strike continues, one can only hope for a swift resolution that serves the best interests of all students, regardless of race.

Yet, one cannot overlook the irony of a strike that hampers access to education in the name of reparations that aim to improve it. This controversy shows the need for broader, comprehensive reforms to adequately address the systemic issues at play in the Oakland school district.