Attorney General Bonta Advises Oakland Unified to Comply with State Laws as It Considers Whether to Close, Merge, and Consolidate Schools in 2025-2026

Monday, January 29, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Releases public findings of DOJ investigation into the district’s 2022 closure decisions, finding they would have had a disproportionate impact, had they not been rescinded 

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a letter to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education reiterating its duty to comply with state education and civil rights laws if it plans any closures, mergers, or consolidations for the 2025-2026 school year. The letter also announces the conclusion of the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into the OUSD Board’s February 8, 2022 decision to close Parker Elementary, Brookfield Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, Grass Valley Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, and Community Day School, and truncate grades 6-8 of Hillcrest Elementary, and La Escuelita Elementary. In the letter, Attorney General Bonta shares DOJ’s findings based on its analysis of public data, which showed that the February 2022 decision, rescinded by OUSD’s Board on January 11, 2023, would have disproportionately impacted Black and low-income elementary students, as well as high-need students with disabilities. The Attorney General further outlines significant concerns about several metrics OUSD has announced that it may rely on to determine future closures, mergers, and consolidation and provides recommendations to help ensure OUSD’s decisions do not violate state law, including prohibitions against closure decisions that reinforce school segregation or disproportionately impact any student group.

“All school districts and their leadership have a legal obligation to protect vulnerable children and their communities from disparate harm when making school closure decisions. The bottom line is that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated," said Attorney General Bonta. “I am committed to working with OUSD’s leadership to achieve successful outcomes for students. My office will continue to monitor OUSD’s processes and decision-making as it moves forward with the required community engagement, equity impact analysis, and planning to implement any future closures, mergers, or consolidations to ensure compliance with California’s Constitution, AB 1912, and anti-discrimination laws."

Pursuant to AB 1912, enacted in September 2022, financially distressed school districts contemplating school closures, mergers, or consolidations are mandated to engage the community before closing schools; conduct an equity impact assessment; and provide the public with the set of metrics or criteria proposed for closure, merger, or consolidation decisions so that the public can provide input. Additionally, existing California civil rights laws and the California Constitution impose mandates for all school districts in California considering closures, mergers, or consolidations.

In April of 2023, Attorney General Bonta issued Guidance Regarding Laws Governing School Closures and Best Practices for Implementation in California to clarify school districts’ legal obligations and present best practices for districts considering closures, mergers, and consolidations, including establishing a robust community engagement process. This guidance also provides best practices to school superintendents and members of school boards throughout California to improve community trust, parent engagement, and reduce a district’s legal risk before, during, and after the closure, merger, or consolidation process.

In the letter, DOJ identifies problematic aspects of OUSD’s equity impact metrics for the AB 1912 process planned for the 2025-2026 school year as presented to the community during its January 10, 2023 meeting, while making several recommendations to ensure that the process and outcomes are legally compliant and serve the best interests of all of its students. DOJ strongly recommends that OUSD:

  • Take affirmative steps to ensure that its enrollment and attendance boundary and school closure decisions alleviate school segregation and do not create disproportionate transportation burdens for protected subgroups.
  • Only use metrics such as school facilities’ conditions, school operating costs, and school capacity if the metric includes an assessment of past and present inequities in resource allocation due to educational segregation or other causes. Where unequal resources, facilities, and recreational space are identified, OUSD should assess how to repair the harm going forward within the closure and redesign process.
  • Revise or eliminate certain OUSD proposed metrics, including Live/Go data demand rate, enrollment size of a school, and the school’s enrollment compared to sustainable school size, as these metrics may improperly penalize schools serving students with disabilities and students who have high needs.
  • Conduct an in-depth analysis on metrics including environmental factors, student demographics and feeder attendance patterns, transportation needs, and special programs.
  • Avoid an exclusive or overreliance on quantitative metrics, without also including a qualitative assessment of how each school is serving the needs of its specific student body, especially as it relates to historically marginalized communities.
  • Engage an independent expert to facilitate the community input and equity impact metric assessment process, and to help OUSD incorporate and follow the Guidance Regarding Laws Governing School Closures and Best Practices for Implementation in California.
  • Engage an independent expert to provide an annual independent assessment regarding the impact on students and district enrollment for any consolidation, merger, or closure decision.
  • Engage with DOJ to solicit feedback and consultation at any time during the process to ensure that OUSD’s process and outcomes are legally compliant and serve the best interests of the school community and all of its students.

A copy of the letter can be read here.

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