Today I had the pleasure of meeting with two student activists, and discussing what policies and practices would increase student voice in Oakland.
Oakland Student Boardmember Jessica Ramos is well-known as the person whose tweet got Jack Dorsey to donate $10 million to the #OaklandUndivided campaign. It was also great to meet All City Council representative Natalie Gallegos Chavez, who has a history of being involved in school policy-making going back to 8th grade. I am grateful to Shawn Lee for bringing us together.
In our discussion, I made three commitments:
First, Natalie raised the issue of restorative justice. Students have long advocated for preserving and increasing support for restorative justice at school sites, which has been very successful in preventing fights, resolving conflicts constructively, and reducing suspensions across Oakland. I agreed that the new safety plan being developed, as a consequence of the passing of the George Floyd resolution to dismantle the Oakland school police department, should include increased support for restorative justice. I believe that students should be on the taskforce that develops the new safety plan, and encouraged them to speak up if the student voice is not being heard there.
Second, Jessica raised the issue of Measure QQ, the Oakland Youth Vote. I definitely support this measure, as it is a great way to get students registered to vote at age 16 and make voting a habit early. When students turn 18, there are often a lot of transitions and it is harder to register to vote and get into that habit, when so many other big changes are happening in their lives. Measure QQ only allows students to vote for school board members, which means a manageable amount of information they need to learn in order to make an informed vote. It will also force candidates like me to be more responsive to student concerns.
Finally, Shawn asked me to commit to engaging with students, once elected, by visiting campuses during the day (or Zooms for as long as the pandemic drags on!) and talking to students at assemblies or other gatherings. I am more than happy to make this commitment, as it is very important to me to engage with the public, including students, about the issues that are being discussed at the school board level. In my district, I will create an opportunity for structured discussions with Oakland Tech students at least twice a year, and Claremont and Oakland International High School at least once a year each.
In other spaces, I have also committed to holding regular open meetings, rotating through different school sites in District 1, to discuss the issues confronting our schools and the district. Of course students would be welcome and encouraged to attend these meetings as well.
I am happy to make these commitments, and also want to work with non-profits that organize our young people, like Oakland Kids First and Californians for Justice, to find other opportunities to increase the voice of our students in decision-making. I have met with student activists from Californians for Justice many times over the years, when I was a parent activist and working with them to advocate for changes at OUSD. I am looking forward to continuing that relationship and expanding it to other organizations once I am in my new role.