Theresa Harrington / EdSource
An anti-school closure activist holds a sign supporting the recall of acting Oakland Unified school board president Jody London during a rally to kick-off the effort on Nov. 20, 2019.

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 next 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.

Theresa Harrington / EdSource

Anti-school closure activists collect signatures in an effort to recall Oakland Unified school board acting board president Jody London, who represents District 1 in north Oakland, during a rally on Nov. 20, 2019.

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.

Theresa Harrington / EdSource

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, 2019.

London, who represents District 1 in north Oakland, said Thursday 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 Elementary 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.

Theresa Harrington / EdSource

Jody London, acting president of the Oakland Unified school board, addresses the board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, right, during a Nov. 13, 2019 board meeting.

But protesters said at a Wednesday rally 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. The protesters plan to release more information about the lawsuit on Friday.)

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.

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  1. Bethany Meyer 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Hi Todd Maddison: The state ballot initiative they are referring to is Schools and Communities First, which will reclaim $12 billion per year for K-12 schools, community colleges and local communities, close commercial property tax loopholes that corporations and wealthy investors use to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes, protect all homeowners and renters by maintaining tax protections for all residential property, and ensure strict accountability so that money goes directly to our … Read More

    Hi Todd Maddison: The state ballot initiative they are referring to is Schools and Communities First, which will reclaim $12 billion per year for K-12 schools, community colleges and local communities, close commercial property tax loopholes that corporations and wealthy investors use to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes, protect all homeowners and renters by maintaining tax protections for all residential property, and ensure strict accountability so that money goes directly to our schools and communities. You can find more information here: https://www.schoolsandcommunitiesfirst.org/

  2. Todd Maddison 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    "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." Given the ongoing financial difficulties on Oakland and the fact that they've been very close to being taken over by the State in recent years, one would think that a sound plan would involve more than "hope." I can't say I know all the details, … Read More

    “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.”

    Given the ongoing financial difficulties on Oakland and the fact that they’ve been very close to being taken over by the State in recent years, one would think that a sound plan would involve more than “hope.”

    I can’t say I know all the details, Oakland is not my district, but the general idea that with enrollment dropping across the state the districts need to shrink the overhead – administrative and facilities – to allow the remaining students to get a quality education seems valid.

    In private industry we would call this “right sizing”, and it’s essential to making sure the organization continues to exist to benefit the 90% of people who remain there, rather than collapsing into bankruptcy and hurting everyone.