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OUSD Students Transfer to PUSD Amid Fears of Antisemitism

PUSD has opened their doors to a recent surge in interdistrict transfers. 

Since November 2023, ten students have transferred from Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to PUSD, said Sylvia Eggert, executive assistant to PUSD Superintendent Jennifer Hawn.

Many of these students transferred from OUSD into Piedmont’s elementary schools, with the exception of one OUSD transfer into Piedmont High School (PHS), said PHS registrar Darlene Low.

Hawn said this increase in transfers is in line with PUSD’s goal to expand enrollment across the district in light of declining numbers. 

“We’ve been really focused on making sure we tell the story of our great schools. And I think that has gotten out to Oakland families,” Hawn said. “I’ve been willing to talk to anyone and share what we’re doing to create a safe space.”

While PUSD staff cannot provide specific reasons for each transfer due to student privacy, multiple Jewish families have revealed that they left in fear of antisemitism and concerns for their child’s safety in OUSD after the Oakland Education Association (OEA) – OUSD’s teachers union – published statements regarding the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza. 

On Oct. 27, 2023, OEA posted a statement to their Facebook page. According to the post, the OEA “unequivocally condemn[s] the 75 year long illegal military occupation of Palestine” and “calls for a ceasefire and end to the occupation of Palestine.” At the end of the post, OEA listed action items, including events and resources for teachers. As of Jan. 30, this statement is still available on OEA’s Facebook page. 

For Jewish families in OUSD, this post sparked fear. 

“To me, words have power and meaning. I felt that they were sending a message that Israel didn’t have a place in this world and then I interpreted that as Jews did not have a place in OUSD—or at least not a Jew that supports Israel,” said Rebecca Feigelson, whose kindergarten son Jacob transferred from Peralta Elementary School to Wildwood Elementary School over winter break. 

Feigelson said she thought that no form of backtracking from OEA would rectify the situation or assuage her initial feelings.

“[At] that moment, my heart just dropped. I thought, ‘no matter what [OEA does] next, they’ve already told me how they really feel’,” she said.

On Oct. 31, OEA added an update to their Facebook post. 

“The [original] post did not accurately represent our original resolution passed by our Executive Board…Our union unequivocally condemns anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We call for the release of hostages held by Hamas,” OEA said in the update.

Elaine, the mother of a fourth grader who transferred from OUSD to PUSD over winter break, said she interpreted the OEA statement as unnecessary and outside their stated purpose in their bylaws.

According to OEA’s bylaws, “the purposes of this association are to represent its members in their relations with their employer, and to seek to be the exclusive representative of appropriate units of school employees.” 

“I can’t find any connection that taking a stand on this issue is within [OEA’s] federally approved scope,” Elaine said. 

Ten days after OEA’s initial statement, on Nov. 6, the group passed a measure encouraging union members to teach about Palestinian liberation in classrooms. 

According to the measure, OEA “will endorse and encourage [their] members to become involved in the growing anti-apartheid movement demanding freedom for Palestine.” 

Despite OEA having 3,000 members, the measure was voted on by OEA’s site representatives, according to J. Weekly, a Northern California newspaper centered on Jewish life. It passed with a 66-31 vote, equating to a 2-1 margin. 

According to the measure, “OEA leadership will support teachers by publicizing and distributing educational materials and resources for teachers to use in classrooms and give support to any teachers that are reprimanded for teaching about Palestinian liberation in their classrooms.”

This was the beginning of an idea for OEA to organize a “Palestine Teach-in.’

“[OEA] names it the ‘Palestine Teach-in’, but it wasn’t just pro-Palestinian. It was anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. That’s a big distinction because there was no one in there calling for a two-state solution or anything like that,” Feigelson said. 

Elaine said that the unilateral perspective of the teach-in is misleading. 

“It leads people to a view that is hateful and harmful. What’s also misleading is not acknowledging the actions of Hamas, and its contributions to what is happening,” she said. 

OUSD’s Director of Communications, John Sasaki, declined TPH’s request for comment. 

According to a J. Weekly article, Sasaki said OUSD supports all students, families, and staff, regardless of religion, heritage, or ethnicity. 

“In this time of heightened tensions because of what’s happening in the Middle East, we are regularly communicating to our community, reminding them of our core values of love and support, so it should be clear that everyone is welcome and valued in our schools,” Sasaki said in the J. Weekly article. 

While both Feigelson and Elaine said their children did not experience any antisemitism first-hand, they both still decided to transfer their children out of OUSD. 

“We experienced a moment of realizing that we didn’t know what to expect from the teachers at his Oakland school and didn’t want the specter of something antisemitic happening to him hanging over us for years to come,” Elaine said. 

Feigelson felt similarly. 

“I saw the writing on the wall. I just thought this is not going to get better if [this is happening] when my child is only now in kindergarten,” she said. 

And they weren’t the only ones. According to J. Weekly, Sasaki said that at least 30 OUSD requests for transfer due to issues related to the ongoing war were approved from October to Dec. 19.  

According to OUSD’s website, OUSD permits families to apply to leave the district for a myriad of reasons.

Feigelson said she cited “Health & Safety” as her reason, and provided OEA’s statement as her supporting document. 

 “OUSD agreed that there’s a health and safety issue for Jewish people by releasing every Jewish person who asked to be released without a conversation and without question,” Feigelson said.

Feigelson said her family’s experience in Piedmont so far has been positive and welcoming. 

The Association of Piedmont Teachers (APT) has not made a statement regarding the ongoing war.

“Our goal is to support our families. We are welcoming to all if we have space,” Hawn said. 

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About the Contributor
Sage Gilbert
Sage Gilbert, Editor-In-Chief
Sage Gilbert (12) is a Co-Editor-in-Chief at TPH. In her free time, she plays water polo and eats burritos with Elizabeth Long.
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