California School Board Alerted: Closure Proposal Disproportionately Harms Black, Low-Income Kids

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In a significant development, California Attorney General Rob Bonta has issued a letter directed to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education, underlining the district’s obligation to adhere to state education and civil rights laws in potential school closures, mergers, or consolidations for the 2025-2026 academic year.

The letter not only serves as a reminder of the district’s legal responsibilities but also marks the conclusion of the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into OUSD’s decision on February 8, 2022, to close several schools.

Attorney General Bonta shared the findings of the DOJ’s analysis of public data, revealing that the initially proposed decision, later rescinded by OUSD’s Board on January 11, 2023, would have disproportionately impacted Black and low-income elementary students, as well as high-need students with disabilities.

Expressing significant reservations about various metrics proposed by OUSD for future closure decisions, the Attorney General has provided recommendations aimed at ensuring compliance with state laws.

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The DOJ identified problematic aspects of OUSD’s equity impact metrics for the AB 1912 process scheduled for the 2025-2026 school year. In the letter, Bonta strongly recommends that OUSD:

  1. Take affirmative steps to ensure enrollment and attendance boundary decisions alleviate school segregation and do not create disproportionate transportation burdens for protected subgroups.
  2. Only use metrics such as school facilities’ conditions, operating costs, and capacity if they include an assessment of past and present inequities in resource allocation due to educational segregation or other causes.
  3. Revise or eliminate certain proposed metrics, including Live/Go data demand rate, enrollment size, and the school’s enrollment compared to sustainable school size.
  4. Conduct an in-depth analysis on metrics including environmental factors, student demographics, and feeder attendance patterns.
  5. Avoid an exclusive reliance on quantitative metrics without including a qualitative assessment of how each school serves the needs of its specific student body.
  6. Engage an independent expert to facilitate the community input and equity impact metric assessment process.
  7. Engage an independent expert to provide an annual independent assessment regarding the impact on students and district enrollment for any consolidation, merger, or closure decision.
  8. Engage with DOJ to solicit feedback and consultation at any time during the process to ensure legal compliance and serve the best interests of the school community and all students.

Attorney General Bonta reiterated his commitment to collaborating with OUSD’s leadership to achieve successful outcomes for students, underscoring the importance of adherence to state laws, including AB 1912 and anti-discrimination laws, throughout the decision-making process.

The recommendations put forth by the Attorney General not only address the specific concerns identified in the investigation but also set a precedent for future decision-making processes within the district. It reflects a commitment to fostering equitable and inclusive educational practices, ensuring that the interests of all students, particularly those from marginalized communities, are prioritized in any future deliberations regarding school closures or consolidations.

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