Protesters take stand at Lakeview Elementary School

(KGO)
June 19, 2012 7:39:36 AM PDT
Oakland parents and teachers protesting the closure of their children's school have been told to leave by school police.

The parents camped out overnight at Lakeview Elementary School on Grand Avenue where they were going to hold a news conference Monday morning, but police showed up, handed out flyers, and told parents they need to leave. The school has been the site of protests for a lot of parents for the last four days, but Monday morning brought a whole new twist as school district police officers issued the new warning.

Seven Oakland Unified School District police officers went on campus to hand out notices. The flyers asked anyone on school grounds to leave. The school district says the group violated the law by trespassing. "As of this morning, there's been an escalation where the building was entered and the alarm was set off, and that's changed the calculus around the situation to a large degree," said Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint.

"All's we're doing is handing out fliers," Sgt. Zarhin Bhatts told one parent. "If you take that for being aggressive, then I don't know where your bar is set at."

"Six officers walking down to an elementary school?" the parent replied.

After police showed up, most parents left. "At that point, we told parents that they needed to go across the street and then make a decision on if they wanted to stay based on that, because they did post warnings and we didn't want to put kids in any kind of situation," teacher Alima Catellacci said.

For the last four days, parents have camped out at the school in protest, angry that the Oakland school and four others were shutdown. Lakeview was supposed to close on Friday, the last day of the calendar year, but a group of parents and teachers joined by protesters decided to stay, setting up camp. "These are public buildings. We pay taxes. I've been here for a decade. My children go to school here. You know, they used to tell us to sit in the back of the bus too, and that was OK," said parent Joel Velazquez.

The group also issued a short list of demands. "So, they need to turn around. Tony Smith needs to reopen the schools or resign," one man said. Smith is the superintendent. The district spokesperson says they are willing to sit down with parents, but doubt the school board's decision to close the schools will change. "They made a tough decision and they've stood firm which is the mark of leadership, is making unpopular decisions and standing by them during difficult times, and I don't see why they would change that course right now," Flint told ABC7 News.

Lakeview is set to become offices for district staff. The district did offer to move the students from Lakeview to three other schools. The problem with that is that many families lack transportation and the district offers no bus service. "We're not going to send an 8-year-old or a 7-year-old across town on public transit. That's absurd," Velazquez said.

The Oakland Unified School District blames the school closings on declining enrollment and budget cuts. The district says it has too many schools for its size and the closures will save about $2 million. One 25-year veteran at Lakeview says her former students worry now about their safety. "Now they have to go to other schools, and some back to neighborhoods that are not so great, and they've even talked of shootings, and all," explained first grade teacher Pamela Chinn Schoff. "So, I know that they felt safe here."

In all, 900 students are impacted by the five school closures.

An Oakland Unified School District spokesperson says the police would like people to leave and they would like things to end peacefully, but says they will move people out if necessary. The protesters say they are there to fight for their children's education and they plan to go no where.

Velasquez vowed to stay "until something changes," he said.

Monday evening's rally started at 4 p.m. and wasn't supposed to last as long as it did. It was well attended with about 100 people or so showing up including parents who left in the morning. Even the head of the Oakland Teachers Union was in attendance.

"We want to give protesters a chance to leave on their own," Flint said Monday evening, not stating any specific deadline. He said he was evaluating the situation along with the district police.

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