Monday, May 16, 2005

OAKLAND: Walkout has schools, city at the ready

Article Last Updated: 5/15/2005 02:49 AM
Walkout has schools, city at the ready
Downtown rally to protest No Child Left Behind on Tuesday
Inside Bay Area
OAKLAND — City school hallways may be a lot less crowded Tuesday when local activists, union leaders and others are expected to encourage students to walk out of class and attend a "Take Back Our Schools" rally in downtown Oakland.

The event, not sanctioned by the school district, is designed to teach students about what organizers say are threats to public education on the 51st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially abolished segregation in public schools.

In past years, school walk-outs have been common during the spring months in Oakland.

But Tuesday's event, planned by both adults and teenagers, is not a walkout, organizer Michael Siegel said.

"I am not organizing a walkout," Siegel said. "I am organizing a conference on Brown v. Board of Education."

Students who come to the event will hear about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and why the district should ignore the law mandating controversial changes at schools that repeatedly fail to raise test scores, organizers said.

Organizers also plan to demand more funding for California schools and a return of "local control" to the Oakland school district, now run by the state after a massive financial collapse two years ago.

Those issues are relatedto the Brown case because they fit "under the rubric of equal education for all," said Siegel, son of school board member Dan Siegel.

Other school board members didn't buy that explanation.

"This is being organized by adults who are using students as political props," school board member Kerry Hamill said. "I want students to be getting the standards during instruction time. I don't want them getting indoctrinated with somebody else's political view. I just can't say enough bad things about it."

Oakland schools State Administrator Randolph Ward has told campuses that the event is not an authorized field trip.

Official field trips must be approved by school principals. On Friday, the principals of Bret Harte Middle School and Oakland Technical High School said they had received no field trip requests from teachers.

An unsanctioned field trip "becomes a tremendous liability if anything was to happen," Oakland Tech Principal Sheilagh Andujar said.

Ward said he hopes students won't be used for political purposes Tuesday.

"I've seen examples of it in the past and I hope it doesn't continue to be tolerated in the community," he said.

A walkout organized to protest the start of the Iraq war in 2003 turned chaotic when hundreds of students left class.

Students at a protest downtown blocked traffic and smacked passing cars, and bottles were thrown from the crowd toward police. Others stormed a BART station and threw rocks at trains.

By all accounts, a number of students have used past walkouts as an opportunity to ditch school.

Siegel said planners of this week's event have worked to avoid similar problems. About 20 people have been trained as "peace keepers" to make sure there are no conflicts during the event, and teachers will instruct students about the issues of the day in class, he said.

"This is fundamental," Siegel said. "If you go to school every day, it makes sense to take a day to reflect on ... the forces that are affecting your education."

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