Dr. Pete Farruggio: OEA December 10 Meeting

The OEA sponsored a community meeting about projected school closures and their impact on the Fruitvale district. The meeting was held from 5-7 PM at the International elementary school on 29th Av & E 14 St.

It created an important opening into the Latino community. The core of my own 20+ years of research has been about the attitudes of Latino immigrant parents toward bilingual education, but this is the first time that I've seen a fairly large group of such parents getting together and learning about the big picture of what is happening in their schools.

The meeting was organized by the teachers' union (OEA) to discuss the topic of school closings for the mostly Latino parents from a cluster of three schools with bilingual education programs in the Fruitvale district, located abut 3 miles from each other. About 80 parents showed up on a dark rainy evening at the International School. The meeting was conducted by about 10 teachers/union reps, mostly bilingual, who seated the parents at several tables spread across the gymnasium to facilitate small group conversations. The tables were intended to be organized by languages, but eventually the whole event was conducted in Spanish, since virtually all of the parents spoke Spanish. Each parent was asked to say at least one thing that she/he would suggest to improve her/his school, and was encouraged to also ask questions.

I sat in with one large table with two teachers and about 15 parents from the three different schools. The main theme was that parents wanted bilingual instruction, and they stated that they didn't like the charter schools they had seen and experienced. A few had put their children into a charter and subsequently withdrew them. They didn't like that the charters refused to teach in Spanish, and were selective in admitting only English speaking students. A few mentioned "discrimination."

None of the three schools are immediately threatened with closure, but the parents were curious about the closures and the increase of charters, including the recruitment flyers sent out by the charter schools. They wanted to know what are these charters and how did they start. We were able to give them an explanation of charters, closures, gentrification, and the billionaires' agenda for the destruction of public schools and unions.  We told them how the current school board members are bought and paid for by the billionaires, and how they have been lying about a financial deficit to justify school closings when they actually have a hidden surplus. About one hour into the table discussions, a teacher/union official from the community gave a powerful speech in Spanish to the whole body, articulating the themes we had discussed at our table, connected to her own history as a student and teacher in the school district.

Eventually, parents began asking "What should we do about this?" Unfortunately, the teachers couldn't say more than the OEA's position, which is "Tell your friends and neighbors about charters, and have everybody vote for anti-charter candidates in the 2020 school board elections."

After the meeting I learned that the latest line from the school board is that the current deficit (untrue) was caused by the pay increases to teachers and classified employees (SEIU members) as a result of the January strike, and that they will have to cut an additional $15 million from the schools' budgets. It seems that within a week they went from a projected surplus of $30 million to a deficit of $40 million, with no detailed explanation.

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