Black Parents Considering Student Strike Over School Closings

by on January 19, 2006

Black parents met in the memorial room of the Martin Luther King Jr. Waterfall to stop what one city supervisor called the “death of black San Francisco” through the closing of dozens of schools in black and low-income neighborhoods. The decision by the San Francisco Unified board has been delayed until today January 19. Omar Khalif, one of the organizers of the Black Parents Together movement, urged parents to participate at the school board meeting, and says that a school strike may be possible. “Some people in the African-American community are mulling it over,” said Kahlif. “It’s the type of thing that could happen overnight.”

“Our schools and students have not been given the five year period of school improvement required under the No Child Left Behind Act,” said Khalif. “The district has not provided parents with the required outreach or the mandated percentage of Title 1 funding for parent development.”

More than 30 percent of black students in the district face closings or school mergers.

Several education advocates, including organizer Liz Jackson-Simpson, explained the reasons a strike could occur. Simpson said the closings will place many students in danger due to gang boundaries and rivalries. She also noted that black students face such barriers as no working bathrooms in their schools, calling into question the rationales used by the school district to justify closings.

Pat Scott, director of Booker T. Washington Community Center, said the district is not providing information and resources for parents to know how to support their children, citing the news that the district is returning $750,000 in Title 1 funds, which are required to be made available for tutoring with students not meeting proficiency standards. The district has the lowest test scores for black students of any urban school district in the state.

Supervisors Sophie Maxwell and Ross Mirkarimi attended the Saturday meeting inside the second largest memorial to Dr. King in the nation. Maxwell emphasized the urgency that parents speak out this week to save schools in her 10th district in the southeastern part of the city. “The district did not give parents a meaningful opportunity to have input,” said Maxwell.

Mirkarimi said, “I can’t emphasize this enough — nothing less than the future of black San Francisco is at stake.”

In addition to several direct action protests this week, parents will meet with educators from the California Alliance of Black School Educators and the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators on Jan. 26 at Ingleside Presbyterian Church in the hall of the Great Cloud of Witnesses from 5 to 8 p.m.
Parents will receive a checklist of items to review compliance by the district with federal, state and legal requirements regarding the education of black students including information on No Child Left Behind requirements and the California Education Code. On Feb. 13, National African-American Parent Involvement Day, parents will be visiting schools and classrooms to visibly support their children along with supporters who do not have children in the district but care about young people nevertheless.

“The district wants to desecrate the memory of civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and even former Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. by closing the schools named for them,” said Khalif. “Denying equal educational opportunities to black students is like spitting on their graves.”

He called upon Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger and Mayor Gavin Newsom to help prevent San Francisco from being known as the city that turned its back on civil rights. If the district moves forward with the proposed changes, Khalif says black parents will consider such options as a student strike similar to the Birmingham sit-ins of 1963 and the San Francisco sit-ins of that same year which opened up employment for many businesses in the city.

Khalif also mentioned the possibility of a false claims act suit against the district for the return of federal funds which were supposed to be spent on improving education for at-risk students.

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