Scolding, threats and security escorts — and it’s only August

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The fall semester is weeks away, but after a brief summer recess, tension came flooding back to the Oakland school board room this week.

I wasn’t at the Wednesday night board meeting when this went down, but it didn’t look pretty from my screen.

One minute Joel Velasquez — a Westlake and former Lakeview parent who has been perhaps the most outspoken and persistent critic of Oakland’s school closures — was at the podium, speaking about working closely with the superintendent and school board and becoming “allies.”

In the next, he was being escorted out of the school board meeting room by Oakland School Police after having threatened to stage protests at board members’ homes.

It wasn’t an empty threat; Velasquez and other supporters of the weeks-long Lakeview sit-in did march to Superintendent Tony Smith’s house in July. Smith, his wife and two elementary school-age daughters weren’t home at the time; Velasquez told him at the meeting that none of the protesters were trying to intimidate him or his family.

First, Velasquez was reprimanded by President Jody London and – later – her board colleague, Gary Yee, for addressing Superintendent Tony Smith as “Tony” while he was on the dais. (“Excuse me, can you refer to the superintendent as the superintendent please?” London told Velasquez. “This is not a first-name setting.”)

Visibly irritated by the interruption, Velasquez asked for more time. Later, when he was told his time was expired, he questioned whether he’d received his full allotment and asked for a chance to complete his remarks. His request was denied.

VELASQUEZ: C’mon you guys, really, this is how you want to do this?


VELASQUEZ: Ok, then we can march to your home next, Jody London, President Jody London. Is that what you want?

SMITH: Officers — please no personal threats, please?

VELASQUEZ: When I try to follow the process, and you guys don’t listen, that is what happens. We end up at your home because you don’t listen to the people. This is completely unnecessary. Gary Yee, all of you, we’ll end up at your homes.

LONDON: We need to continue the meeting. Can we help the speaker leave the podium, please?

What did you make of this showdown?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I can’t imagine what a pompous brown-noser Gary Yee is to DEMAND (not request) a public citizen address the superintendent by an honorific! And threaten him to boot!

    This is 2012 California at a school board meeting, not the court of Queen Elizabeth!

    Good old boy Tony gets “honored” plenty with a salary at least 5 times mine. I don’t think we need to protect his ego as well.

    I know, decorum, manners, etc. But this is not about that, he didn’t insult the Super. This is about egalitarianism, a break from our European roots, and the idea that we all are supposed to have a voice in a democracy.

    For some reason this really sickens me. I should start going to these meetings and speak my mind, I guess, but then I’ll surely be labeled a “troublemaker.”

  • Observer

    J.R.–Why do you want to argue to argue with me when I am not arguing with you? Sigh. Ok—the greatest blackhole of social welfare BY FAR goes to social security and medicare. Those people are taking an average of 10% of every wage earner in the US’ income and it’s rising. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/02/12/us/entitlement-map.html?ref=us Aid to families with small children (whole or single parent households) was in decline until 2008 while aid to older Americans has been shooting through the roof. Only very recently has aid to children REQUESTS gone up. Sec. 8 housing requests only recently went up (but I will give you the waitlist for Sec.8 housing has been long for decades). Medicaid also has been rising incrementally. But wouldn’t you say that health care costs are so astronomical that you might forgive the working poor their inability to pay the $1200 a month, $30 co-pays for every visit, plus a high deductible that I pay out of pocket every year for a healthy family of 4 with no pre-exisiting conditions? What would you have a mother with a sick child do? Not go to the hospital because she might offend the cowboys?

    I mentioned nothing about social welfare. If you want people, including middle and upper middle class people, to work hard, contribute to the economy and growth or our nation then educate their kids, provide them health care that includes life long family planning and counseling , provide them childcare, provide them time to tend to them. Again, that is what the nations in YOUR example do and no one calls it a “hand-out”. Your way is costing you more money anyway.

    It seems some posters here prefer to pay for prisons.

  • J.R.

    Why is is always intimated that poverty is victimization and not self induced, and furthermore that we should take care of people or they will turn to crime?

    Except from link:

    “The share of Americans’ income that comes from government benefit programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, more than doubled over the last four decades, rising from 8 percent in 1969 to 18 percent in 2009″.

    As I have said before, this is a multi-generational attitudinal problem whose root cause is not economic downturns, it is a way of life that permeates certain communities, and due to the recession and housing bust is creeping further up the economic ladder. With income thats about average teachers salary, I am not exactly wealthy either. I know what it is like to not have financial security(seniority ,pensions and so forth). As they say, many are just one illness away from homelessness(except of course government unionized public sector workers, that is).

  • Nextset

    Observer: In my idea of a functioning government, mentally ill homeless types would be in internment camps called state hospitals like prior to 1960. And they wouldn’t be reproducing either because they would have been sterilized like previously in mid 20th century USA.

    So we would not have the spectacle of paranoid schitzos wandering our streets like we do now.

    The problems the CA and the USA have now with trouble in the streets and the schools is completely self inflicted and artificial – that is we have made ourselves into a 3rd world place when were never were previously.

    It’s very easy to stop. We get the federal government back onto it’s reservation – follow the existing constitutional provisions limiting federal power. If the states want a program let them do it or not.

  • AC Mom


    Thanks for responding. The large number of social, economic, legal, and political changes that would be necessary to achieve that dream would be astounding.

    Your question, “What problems do we need public schools to solve?” is interesting. There are certainly delicate and less delicate ways to answer it. I guess you won’t be laying any wreaths on the grave of Horace Mann any time soon…

  • Observer

    JR-who is saying anything about victimizing? The propel who are draining SS and Medicare are not, for the part, poor. Indeed there is NO income component whatsoever for Medicare or social security. How old are you? From what you’ve written it seems you’re not far off from receiving those benefits yourself. These two programs are the biggest , again by far, social programs in the country. The welfare mom is in the extreme minority of receivers of welfare, yet she’s enjoys the status of the older generations favorite whipping girl while they enjoys thousands of dollars a year in benefits on the taxpayers dime. Glass houses.

  • Nontcair

    You’re welcome. 😉

    Just because I favor a constitutional minimum implementation for public education doesn’t mean that I concede the point that the institution should exist in the first place.

    In fact, I don’t.

    REPEAL of Article 9 in its entirety would certainly require an astounding effort, but well worth it.

    The moment you concede that the government should do something about X, there’s NO END to it. From public libraries and family planning (jeez!) to food stamps to Section 8 to landing a man on Mars.

  • Nextset

    I noticed last night the pathetic commentary of the Jerry Brown administration on TV that if we don’t raise taxes in November like they want (to “try to” maintain the status quo) they will cut the school year 3 weeks.

    So what. Cut it. That goes for the state colleges also.

    The public schools are barely functioning as schools anyway. I do not believe the reading and math scores will materially change by cutting the school year. The cognitively impaired still will have bad scores and will be functionally illiterate. The Bright students will still have high scores and will be on the way to the same occupations.

    And we will have our money instead of the government having it.

    Those tax increases are going to fail. The government doesn’t have anywhere near enough goodwill from the likely voters (ie the taxpayers) to be given higher tax rates.

  • J.R.

    The government(at all levels is a shameless,wasteful and greedy aristocracy)who count on voter ignorance and apathy to make their fortunes. They tell citizens there is a financial crisis, and need to raise taxes, and then proceed to give staffers a pay raise. These politicians are corrupt, and have no sense of right and wrong.