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Opinion: Oakland puts charter school politics ahead of student needs

Opinion: Oakland puts charter school politics ahead of student needs

A parent’s frustration as district forces closure of successful Fruitvale District program with long waiting list

Original article found here.

Photo of Aspire ERES Parent, Reyna Morales
Photo of Aspire ERES Parent, Reyna Morales.

By Reyna Morales

“I can’t believe that this is happening,” my 10-year-old daughter responded when I told her that her beloved public school, Aspire ERES Academy in Fruitvale, plans to close at the end of the school year. The school isn’t closing due to poor performance or lack of interest. ERES has a waitlist of 200 families and is serving Hispanic students better than every nearby school according to SBAC math and English language scores. ERES plans to close because OUSD prioritized its own anti-charter politics over Oakland children’s futures. 

ERES, which means ‘you are’ in Spanish and stands for Education, Responsibility, Empowerment and Success, is a campus of Aspire Public Schools, a network of nonprofit public charter schools in California. I have been on the front lines of ERES’ 10-year battle with OUSD to increase its enrollment to meet community demand and become financially sustainable, and to identify a school building that would meet our community’s needs. Nine times we have asked for a facility. And nine times, OUSD offered facilities they knew wouldn’t work – whether in a too-small building, one that needed millions of dollars of renovation, or one that was in a faraway neighborhood inaccessible to ERES’ working families. OUSD has become so obstinate that in 2018, OUSD’s then-Board President Aimee Eng spoke at an Oakland City Council meeting to demand that the city deny the sale of an unused parcel of city land to build a new facility for ERES with a $30 million grant from the State. ERES was forced to return the grant and begin yet another search for a facility to house its growing school. After 10 years, ERES simply cannot continue operating without action from OUSD to provide an adequate facility that would allow the school to increase its enrollment. 

I fight for ERES because this school fought for my family when we needed it most. When my oldest daughter came to the United States from Guatemala at 8 years old, she didn’t speak English. The ERES community helped her learn the language and build an academic foundation. In 2019, when I was recovering in the hospital after being hit by a car, the ERES community rallied around my family by providing meals, arranging transportation for my daughters to get to and from school, and raising more than $10,000 to support us while I was out of work due to rehabilitation. This is more than a school; it’s a family. 

The OUSD Board should be ashamed. Rather than listen to the voices of the Black and brown families they are elected to represent, they prioritize anti-charter politics over what is best for Oakland’s families. They’ve ignored our pleas to help us find a solution. A decade of willful inaction has caused our community needless suffering only exacerbated during the pandemic. ERES’ planned closure doesn’t just hurt ERES families. This is a loss for all of Oakland, and I am gravely worried for the future of our district because OUSD has shown us that they will ignore parents’ voices when the politics don’t serve them.

It may be too late to save ERES Academy. After more than 10 years of advocacy, we seem to be out of time to find a solution. But this fight has taught me to believe in the power of our voices. As parents, we know what is right for our children, and we must hold our public officials accountable when they use their power to undermine us. OUSD must listen to parents’ needs and make decisions that put children and communities ahead of political agendas. I will be helping parents demand that accountability from their elected school board officials. 

Reyna Morales is a resident of the Fruitvale in Oakland and the single mother of three daughters. Her oldest daughter is a graduate of Aspire ERES Academy and her younger twin daughters are in fifth grade at ERES. 

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