There is a line between a peaceful demonstration and intimidation.
The people who marched to Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith's house to protest the closing of five public elementary schools crossed it.
The crowd gathered outside Smith's house Tuesday evening demanding he reopen the schools or resign. Luckily for Smith, neither he nor his wife and children were home. The protesters trespassed on Smith's property, planting signs on his lawn and windows. Some swung on a rope that hung from a tree in his yard. They denounced Smith in loud speeches while his neighbors looked on in amazement. Some kids -- egged on by adults -- rang his doorbell.
Do you suppose Smith's young daughters -- had they been home -- might have been just a wee bit frightened by the boisterous crowd outside shouting nasty things about their father? There is no justification for protesters trying to harass Smith at his residence.
What were they hoping to accomplish? Did they really believe Smith would -- even if he had the authority to -- reverse the closures? That all of the parents who have agreed for their children to be transferred -- to better performing schools, for the most part -- would now change their plans?
A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the 2 ½ week Lakeview standoff:
On June 15, a group of parents, teachers and some children -- joined by Occupy protesters -- began a sit-in at Lakeview on Grand
The district had signed off on the contentious plan in October. School officials said Oakland had too many schools. That given declining enrollments and state budget cuts, it made no sense to keep underutilized campuses open.
Some of the main factors the district considered in deciding which schools to shut down were enrollment size, the school's academic performance and how many kids attended from the immediate neighborhood.
Lakeview was mostly a commuter school. It was also one of the district's low performing schools. Those factors helped land it on the hit list.
Yet some Lakeview parents refused to accept the school board decision. They argued flatland schools with large percentages of low-income and minority students had been unfairly targeted, while schools in higher income areas were unscathed.
Borrowing tactics from Occupy, protesters began sleeping in tents at the school. They served meals and set up a "People's School."
Early Tuesday, police raided the site and ordered the 15 to 20 parents and their kids to leave.
Later that day, protesters held a rally outside Lakeview -- which the district intends to use for administrative offices -- to protest the raid and vowed to continue their fight to reopen the schools.
They have some legitimate questions about the reasoning behind the district's decision.
School district officials initially said the district would save $2 million with the closures. They later revised that to nearly $6 million in savings. But that's what it costs to operate the five schools. The district will still incur costs to educate students who will be transferred to other campuses. Meanwhile, the Alameda County Board of Education -- over the objections of the Oakland school board -- voted to approve Lazear, an elementary school in Fruitvale, as a charter. Converting Lazear to a charter will be costly for the district, which, again, begs the question: How much is the school district really saving by closing the five schools?
Still, I don't see what was accomplished by marching to Smith's house.
Why have protesters singled out the school superintendent as the bad guy?
He did not unilaterally order the five schools closed.
It was the school board that voted 5-2 in favor of the decision.
Nor did Smith create the state budget crisis.
I can understand people's frustrations with the steady erosion of public education.
However, Smith is the wrong target and fighting to keep open schools without enough students is a no-win cause.