The war between Israel and Hamas has sparked tensions in the Oakland Unified School District, enough that at least 30 Jewish families have transferred their kids out of the district as first reported by J Weekly and confirmed by CBS News Bay Area.
Some told CBS News Bay Area they made the move in part due to concerns for their children’s safety.
CBS News Bay Area has confirmed the exodus of Jewish families comes following a string of actions by the Oakland teachers’ union and the district itself that many say resulted in antisemitism and created a hostile environment for their students.
In the weeks following the October 7th attacks by Hamas on Israel, and Israel’s subsequent ground invasion of Gaza, a group of unidentified OUSD teachers held a “teach-in” highlighting pro-Palestinian lessons.
The teach-in, which was not carried out by all OUSD teachers and was not sanctioned by the district, triggered responses from the district and the teacher’s union that some Jewish parents said wasn’t enough to protect their children from antisemitic tropes.
“I just felt like I didn’t want to have my child around educators that might not be able to treat him the same way that they treat other students,” former OUSD parent Rebecca told CBS News Bay Area.
Along with her husband Isaac, the family decided to transfer their 6-year-old student out of Oakland Unified and into the Piedmont school district.
“I just felt that there wasn’t a path forward for Jewish families because I had reached out to OUSD and asked them to have a conversation about how they were going to keep Jewish families feeling safe and included,” Rebecca explained. “When there were lesson plans that were being taught that said, ‘Draw the Zionist bully,’ or ‘I for Intifada, J is for Jesus.’ And to me, it felt like — honestly — we were being targeted and singled out and alienated.”
They said it wasn’t an easy decision to move their student mid-year, but they ultimately felt the preventative measure was necessary.
“[We were] so worried about, in the future, if our child stayed in OUSD, that he would face more and more hostility in the schools in the school district,” said Isaac.
“I think that we are just one of the very lucky few that was able to get a spot in the neighboring district,” Rebecca added.
CBS News Bay Area learned more Jewish parents filed transfer requests that were denied by other school districts due to capacity restrictions.
Like Shira Avoth, who has a son in middle school. She said he has experienced antisemitism in the classroom, but is waiting until March to file a transfer request for him to start at a new school at the beginning of the upcoming school year.
“The only reason why, the only reason why [we are waiting to transfer] is because my son has a really good group of friends,” she explained.
“Everything that’s happening in the community is weighing on him,” Avoth added.
OUSD has approved many transfer requests, which some believe is a subtle acknowledgment the problem.
One Jewish parent and employee of the Oakland Unified School District who spoke to CBS News Bay Area on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution for speaking out, said that while they don’t want to leave the district, the district also isn’t doing enough to keep Jewish students and families safe.
“The fact that it was so easy to apply and say that it feels unsafe for my family, and it was granted so quickly validates the fact that it is actually unsafe. The district knows this,” the person explained.
When asked how they’re feeling about being faced with a decision to stay or transfer, the parent said it was difficult.
“Honestly, just asking that makes me want to cry. I feel profoundly hurt. I feel profoundly ostracized,” the person said. “I feel so misunderstood and somehow labeled as a person that is supporting the harm of others when that is so far from how I see myself … I see so many areas in which they’re failing my family.”
CBS News Bay Area reached out to OUSD on Friday to get their perspective. They declined to participate in an interview, but sent a statement that said, “OUSD is a sanctuary district, inside Oakland, a sanctuary city, inside California, a sanctuary state. Which means we support all students, families and staff, regardless of religion, heritage, ethnicity, where they came from, or how they got here.”
“We protect all students, and harassment of anyone is never acceptable,” the statement continued. “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.”
But for Rebecca and Isaac, that’s not enough for them to feel their child is safe at school.
“I just want to make sure that he continues to love who he is and where he comes from,” Rebecca said.