A coalition is seeking to legally force the Oakland Unified School District to drop its school consolidation plan, alleging that the district failed to evaluate it based on the California Environmental Quality Act.

Justice for Oakland Students Coalition, a group seeking greater equity for low-income students of color in the district, filed a complaint May 12 in Alameda County Superior Court.

The coalition alleges the plan will further harm Black and Hispanic communities that absorb the students displaced from schools that close or no longer serve students in certain grades.

The communities that absorb the displaced students are burdened already by environmental problems such as pollution as well as racial injustices such as redlining, the coalition said.

“OUSD needs to start over in a thoughtful and lawful process that protects not just its students but the East Oakland communities already suffering from asthma and other health issues related to pollution and emissions before closing neighborhood schools that our families can walk to,” said Pecolia Manigo Awobodu with Justice For Oakland Students Coalition in a statement.

Growing opposition

Other groups also disagree with the consolidation plan.

Teachers who are part of the Oakland Education Association, the union representing public school teachers in Oakland, went on strike for a day recently to show their disagreement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in April filed a complaint with the California Department of Justice alleging the plan violates the rights of Black students. ACLU’s complaint alleges the plan violates the right to equal opportunity in education and is racially discriminatory.

The consolidation plan involves closing seven schools, merging two and eliminating middle school grades at two others.

Parents with the coalition demanded information on whether the school district was complying with environmental laws. Those demands were allegedly ignored, coalition leaders said.

“(R)ather than follow clear California law, OUSD embarked on a rushed and illegal process to shutter schools that largely ignored the students, families, and communities it serves.”

Andrew Lah, attorney

The leaders said that the public information available shows one of two things. Either the school district failed to analyze the plan under CEQA or failed to find the plan was exempt from CEQA.

“OUSD was required to engage in an environmental analysis before making its decision to shutter schools,” alleged Andrew Lah, an attorney for the coalition, in a statement. “But rather than follow clear California law, OUSD embarked on a rushed and illegal process to shutter schools that largely ignored the students, families, and communities it serves.”

Precedent has already been set for an environmental analysis, Lah said, citing two cases. One involved the Barstow Unified School District and the other involved the Palos Verdes Unified School District.

“We think this is an appropriate use of CEQA,” Lah said.

Justice for Oakland Students Coalition is also asking the court to require the school district to comply with CEQA on any subsequent action taken on the consolidation plan.

The consolidation plan continues a pattern in which the district has aimed to close schools serving mainly Black students, leaders for the coalition allege.

School district spokesman John Sasaki said, when asked for a comment on the complaint, that the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Pagransen. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Pagransen, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.