The implementation of the deeply flawed “One Newark” student-dispersal program all but collapsed Thursday as the state administration’s highly paid bureaucrats kept hundreds of angry and frustrated parents and children waiting in un-airconditioned school rooms or outside in 90+ heat to register their children for the few remaining public school seats. Just hours into the chaos, Newark school officials locked the doors to Newark Vocational and told the men, women, and children waiting outside to come back at 5 a.m. the next morning.
The people in line outside shouted angrily at the bureaucrats and demanded a “number”–as shoppers do at meat markets–and the chance to get inside so they could plan for their children’s education. Many said they could not return the next day because they had taken the day off from working and couldn’t take another day.
“The people downtown have no idea how the people of Newark work,” says Frankie Adao, the head of the Newark Parents Union, who witnessed the chaos. “They don’t understand they have to work, they have to be places and arrange for child care. I hope this wakes up many of the parents who didn’t think ‘One Newark’ had anything to do with them. Now they know.”
The “One Newark” plan was devised by Cami Anderson, the $300,000-a-year state-imposed superintendent who is consistently praised, despite her incompetence, by the man who appointed (and just reappointed) her, Gov. Chris Christie. It was developed in secret with the help of charter school operators and former Mayor Cory Booker using consltants who were paid millions in fees to devise the scheme. It empties and closes public schools and enhances the fortunes of private, charter school operators.
All the parents had stories to tell about the cruelty inflicted by the Anderson/Christie regime on the often poor and predominantly black and Hispanic residents of Newark. Typical was the story told by Marisol Mendez who came to the “One Newark” registration day to find placements for her 14-year-old son, Carlos Perez, and 9-year-old daughter, Emily Perez. The family lives in the North Ward and the children attended Abington Avenue but, when they applied under Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, Carlos, a special education student, they were assigned to West Side High School and Emily was sent to a South Ward school.
“The placements were inappropriate for both of the children,” says Mendez. “My daughter is not going to take NJ Transit across town and my son needs a self-contained, special education class. He has had one all of his school career.”
Mendez tried to get answers from both the NPS administration and from charter schools. But, she says, two charter school operators–Newark Prep and K-12–told her they couldn’t take special education students. When she tried to speak to bureaucrats downtown, she received this shocking answer:
“They told me I should home-school my children.”
The treatment of Mendez’s family is consistent with the policies embraced by Christie and Anderson since the governor and Booker, a nationally known champion of charter and voucher schools, arranged to have Anderson come in as superintendent in 2011.
Anderson is closing the neighborhood schools. The charters are picking up students with the least problems while those with the greatest need–like special education students–are assigned to what is left of the public school stock.
“I am going to be spending the rest of the day trying to find a lawyer,” says Mendez. “I’m not going to stop until I have the right placement for my son.”
A few days ago, Anderson circulated information that an enrollment center would be set up at the West Kinney School. The center was supposed to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
But, when Mendez got there about 7:30, there already were about 500 people in front of her. Each family was handed a number and told to report to an overheated gymnasium or auditorium. Mendez’ number was 713.
Families were called singly and, by the time the day was half-over, the bureaucrats had seen fewer than 100 families. Then they decided to lock the doors, enraging people who had waited outside for hours for a number.
“Imagine the scene,” says Adao. “Children of all ages, outside in the hot sun or inside without water, crying and screaming, and some of the people from downtown were really nasty.”
Newly-elected Mayor Ras Baraka showed up at the scene but, at first, was kept away from the angry crowds outside and in the overheated auditorium. Eventually, however, he did get to meet with the parents and children suffering from the heat and Anderson’s ineptitude. Parents cheered him and pleaded for action.
The process is expected to continue for days and into next week. But one of Newark’s education leaders warned it was only the beginning of the problems face by Newark parents even before school opens Sept. 4.
“This isn’t a registration process,” says Leonard Pugliese, the executive director of the City Association of School Administration (CASA). “This is simply an assignment process. These children and their parents now have to go to the individual schools and register–and that’s no small thing.”
He also pointed out that the “bigger picture” involved the question of whether the “recklessly implemented” plan–causing anger and pressure throughout the system–would actually end up with children receiving the most appropriate assignments.
(Note to Readers: I was not in Newark today but in Washington, DC. I put this story together from eye-witness accounts and telephone interviews).