Thousands of teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike this early morning—the latest in a series of progressively militant work blockages by educators throughout the nation.
In January, instructors in Los Angeles, California, won a historical strike, securing smaller class sizes, a nurse in every school, a reduction in standardized testing, a 6 percent pay raise for instructors and a plan for the School Board to vote to call on the state to cap charter school development.
The teachers union in Denver, Colorado, won its first strike in 25 years last week, while teachers in West Virginia walked out earlier this week, halting proposed legislation that would have actually permitted tax dollars to pay for private-school tuition.
Today, the 3,000-member Oakland Education Association (OEA) is on strike after 95 percent of its members voted on February 4 to authorize the work blockage. The union says it has picket lines up at all 86 instructional campuses in Oakland.
The Oakland instructors strike is as much about defending public education as it is about teacher pay.
The Oakland teachers strike is as much about defending public education as it is about instructor pay.
United under the motto, “Fighting for the schools our trainees deserve,” the union is calling for smaller sized class sizes, more assistance services for trainees (nurses, therapists and curators), and an end to neighborhood school closures.
Currently, 24 Oakland public schools are slated for closure, the bulk of them in bad and working-class neighborhoods of color.
The school closures are straight related to the increase in charter schools. According to a report by In the Public Interest, charter schools in Oakland are presently costing the district $57 million dollars per year.
The union is also calling for a living wage for teachers who are progressively being priced out of Oakland. According to a recent op ed by the union’s president, Keith Brown, a beginning teacher would have to spend 60 percent of their income to afford a one-bedroom apartment or condo in Oakland. Unsurprisingly, the district is losing 500 instructors per year, leaving a 24 percent vacancy rate in mentor positions in the district.
The strike has got strong support from households and trainees in the school district.
Parents, parishes and neighborhood organizations have been organizing “Strike Schools” that supply a safe space for children to go during the day—without crossing a picket line. This broadens the alternatives for moms and dads who can not pay for to stay home from work to watch their kids.
One parish in Oakland, Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, had vowed to take in up to 250 trainees per day, feeding them free lunch and snacks. Pastor Anthony Jenkins called on other places of praise to do likewise.
Meanwhile, “Bread for Ed” project, co-sponsored by the OEA, has already raised $46,000 in funds to feed low-income trainees throughout the strike who typically get subsidized meals at school.
Student assistance for the strike is likewise high, as students have organized different walk-outs and marches in Oakland this month to assistance the instructors’ needs.
Here are some of the deals with and voices of teachers, moms and dads, and students from today’s picket lines.
Thousands of striking teachers, parents and trainees rally at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland, calling on Oakland Unified School District to lower class sizes, boost trainee assistance services, and pay instructors a living wage.
Striking instructors rally in downtown Oakland.
Becca Rozo, an 11 th and 12 th grade liberal arts instructor at Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland pickets outside her school with her co-parent, Claudia, and child, Emiliano. Rozo was looking through a text thread of instructors from around the district and stated, “Most students are respecting the picket lines and are not participating in school today.”
Chela Delgado, an 11 th and 12 th grade humanities teacher at Coliseum College Prep Academy who has been teaching for 15 years, waves to vehicle drivers who honk in assistance of the teachers picket line. “I’m out here today due to the fact that I love teaching,” said Delgado. “But instructors of color are being required out of the district. They can go to actually any other school in the district and get paid thousands more than they can make in Oakland. We’re losing instructors. It’s linked to the housing crisis.”
Silvia Ornelas (back, orange headscarf) postures with striking instructors and parents at Roots International Academy in Oakland. Ornelas is a moms and dad activist with a kid at Roots who has actually been battling to keep the school open after the school district announced last fall strategies to close or combine 24 schools in Oakland, including Roots. “The schools they are closing are in the flatlands, where black and brown trainees go. They’re not closing the schools in the hills. I have a child with Down Syndrome, so I know the speech therapists and instructors’ aides well. They are all worried out. I assistance them 100 percent. They need more resources,” stated Ornelas.
Sanda Wilson, a volunteer crossing guard at Elmhurst Neighborhood Prep, a middle school in deep East Oakland, shows her support for striking instructors while directing traffic. “I have 9 kids in the Oakland schools,” said Wilson. “These instructors raised my kids and they are worthy of a raise. The classes are too big and we need more nurses in the schools.”
Alexis Ayala, a 15- year-old student in 10 th grade at Coliseum College Preparation Academy, leads chants on the teachers’ picket line. Last week, Ayala, with his buddies Carla Franco and Erika Nuño, organized a “walk-in” where students rallied in support of their teachers and educated students about the strike. “I think there need to be more instructors so that teachers can provide more support to trainees and not have to have our hands raised for so long,” stated Ayala.
Catie Tombes (back) rallies with other charter school teachers in support of the public school instructors strike in Oakland. Tombes is a second-year, ninth-grade English teacher at ARISE H igh School in Oakland, a charter school. “We’re utilizing our voice to call out privatization too,” stated Tombes. “Charter school instructors understand that growth [of charter schools] is not a great thing. The other unifying thing between OUSD teachers and charter school instructors is wanting self-respect and respect for the occupation. Mentor is feminized and undervalued.”
A instructor holds up a indication reading “Can you read this? Thank a Instructor on STRIKE” as she marches through downtown Oakland.