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Protesters collecting signatures to oust Oakland board member who backed school closing

An anti-school closure activist holds a sign supporting the recall of acting Oakland Unified school board president Jody London during a rally to kickoff the effort on Nov. 20. (Photos by Theresa Harrington/EdSource)

As opposition to school closures in Oakland Unified gains traction among some community members, a group of protesters is initiating a recall campaign against acting school board president Jody London.

But they are working against the clock to collect about 5,000 signatures before May, which is six months before the next election. First, however, they must gather 50 signatures on a Notice of Intent to recall London, which they anticipate they will have soon so they can serve London with the papers early this week, said Saru Jayaraman, a Kaiser Elementary parent who has been leading protests against school closures.

“We are extremely confident we can collect 5,000 signatures in just a few months, starting in December, in time to have the recall election,” Jayaraman said. The group has 120 days to collect the signatures, she added.

Anti-school closure activists collect signatures in an effort to recall Oakland Unified school board acting president Jody London, who represents District 1 in north Oakland, during a rally on Nov. 20.

London said she does not believe the group will be able to get enough signatures to mount the recall. Kaiser parent Michael Louden said the “Oakland is not for sale” group may launch recall campaigns against more board members if they are successful in gathering enough signatures to recall London.

Kaiser Elementary parent Michael Louden holds a photo of district police forcefully arresting him at a board meeting last month, during a rally to recall Oakland Unified school board member Jody London on Nov. 20.

London, who represents District 1 in north Oakland, said Nov. 21 that she announced more than a year ago that she does not plan to seek re-election because her youngest daughter graduated from high school and she believes a parent should represent the district. London represents the district that includes Kaiser Elementary in an affluent north Oakland hills neighborhood, which the board voted in September to close and merge at the end of this school year with Sankofa Academy in the lower-income area of north Oakland known as the flatlands.

The diverse student body at Kaiser comes from all over the city. This is one of the reasons behind the board’s decision, London said, because only about 10 percent of students attending the school live in the neighborhood.

“We need to have schools where people live,” she said. “We operate twice as many schools as districts with similar numbers of students. … Many people want things to be different and better and yet they do not want anything to change.”

She said the district would be able to increase the quality of remaining schools if it has fewer to operate and can focus more resources on them. London said many people she doesn’t even know  come up to her on the street or email her to thank her for the hard decisions the board is making to improve schools overall throughout the city.

Jody London, left, acting president of the Oakland Unified school board, addresses the board as Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell listens during a Nov. 13 board meeting.

But protesters said at a rally Nov. 20 to kick off the recall campaign that school closures hurt students. They are demanding a moratorium on school closures until the summer of 2022, in the hopes that voters will approve statewide ballot measures next year that would bring more money to schools. The group also wants the district to stop charter school growth, end funding for its police force and to involve the community in budget decisions. The police force has come under fire for using batons to hold back protesters on Oct. 23 as they attempted to go up to the stage where the school board was meeting. The district has promised a third-party investigation of police action.

(Jayaraman has said she was injured during the protest on Oct. 23 when she was arrested by district police while leading a disruption of the school board’s meeting and plans to sue the district along with others who were arrested, including Louden.)

* Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

Story originally published by EdSource.