The five children of George Tillman stood with him in front of what had once been known—and, to some in Newark’s South Ward, will always be known—as the Bragaw Avenue School. Above their heads, newly installed air conditioners hummed quietly and, from a discreet distance, armed private security guards warily kept watch on a hundred or so city residents. The scene is from the new Newark, the strange new world where faraway strangers with private money determine the future of public education. Tillman’s five children are being dispersed to five different schools. The state-operated school district waited until Bragaw was awarded to a privately-operated charter school before it installed air-conditioning. And the armed security guards illustrate just how far from the people neighborhood schools have become.
It might have been a thoroughly sad and depressing scene—except that it was here on noon Monday that Newark’s residents, parents, and employees began to fight back against the racist regime imposed on the city’s public schools by Gov. Chris Christie, his education commissioner David Hespe, and Cami Anderson, the soulless, tone-deaf woman who would destroy a city for her private ambitions.
“We are going to go where others have not wanted to go,” said Robert Pickett, a lawyer with years of experience in the city. “We are going to talk about what no one wants to talk about.”
That would be unspeakably segregated schools in Newark where 90 percent of the children are black or brown in a county, Essex County, where some nearby towns—like Millburn and Fairfield and Nutley—have school enrollments that are 90 percent or more white.
Newark—and, with it, the surrounding towns—represent what a Rutgers University study called an “apartheid” regime, as strictly racially limited as any bantustan in pre-Mandela South Africa. That study by Paul Tractenberg and others by Rutgers researchers, including Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, were cited in the litigation Pickett announced at the noon press conference.
If Pickett and 24 complainants in a law suit have their way—and if the courts in New Jersey have the courage they need—the litigation will bring down the rotted infratsructure of school segregation in Newark and Essex County, create a regionalized school district where black and white children attend school together, and end forever the scam of charter schools, private schools created to buy off the damage doneby keeping black school children isolated and away from resources that could guarantee them educational equity.
The case will be known as Carole Graves vs.the State Operated School District of Newark, and Cami Anderson, state superintendent of schools—and probably will be known in the future the shirthand caption, Graves vs. Anderson, an historic name given Carole Graves role as the president of the Newark Teachers Union from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.
The litigation demands that the state education commissioner—and, ultimately, the courts of New Jersey—immediately stop the implementation of the so-called “One Newark” plan, imposed by Anderson and her boss, Christie. “One Newark” is supposed to “reform” public schools by closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with privatized charter or other schools—some of them called “renew” schools.
Studies cited in the litigation show that black children, parents, and school employees are adversely affected by the “One Newark” plan. The complaint contends:
“The ‘One Newark’ Plan’s emphasis on closing neighborhood schools and allowing charter schools to take over / convert these traditional schools disproportionately impact African-American and Hispanic students and the most severely disadvantaged children in Newark, including those in extreme poverty, with special educational needs and/or with limited English proficiency.
“African-American students will be disproportionately affected by any further attempts by the Respondent Newark School District to ‘close’ and ‘convert’ any additional neighborhood schools. Indeed, the 2011-2012 school closures affected African-Americans more than any other ethnic group. African-American students made up 53.4 percent of the student enrollment in 2011-2012 school year. Nonetheless, they made up 86.4 percent of the students most directly affected by school closures as compared to the total white student population of 7.9 percent impact of only.04 percent. The One Newark Plan will not significantly (20 times less) have any impact on the….white student population in the Newark School District.
“ The One Newark Plan assumes that charter takeovers and conversions are justified on the basis that the charter system will succeed where its traditional schools have not with the same population of disadvantaged students. There is no basis for the conclusion that charter takeovers and conversions can solve the problems of the Newark Public Schools, because charters have not traditionally had to serve the student populations of the schools slated for takeover and have not been challenged to produce superior outcomes on that same population of students who are, for the most part, students in poverty, students with special needs and students with English as a second language.
“Furthermore, expanding charters to replace public schools will leave the neediest students to languish in other district schools that are failing or less successful.”
The lawsuit contends the state-operated school district failed to follow the law creating charter schools and seeks to end the relentless conversion of public neighborhood schools to privately operated charter schools, most which are operated by national chains like KIPP and Uncommon Schools.
But, perhaps, the most significant thrust of the lawsuit is that which argues the state has failed for decades to enforce the demands in its state Constitution, the rulings of its courts, and statutory law to prevent the spread and deepening of de facto school segregation.
“De facto segregation is against the law in New Jersey and it has to be stopped,” declared Pickett. “We are going to stop it.”
The language in the complaint contends:
“Children who attend racially segregated schools cannot receive an education that adequately prepares them to function as competitors in the labor market or as citizen in a democratic society…. Children in racially segregated school districts do not receive the educational experiences that train them to function socially, civically and in the work place with children of other races. They do not receive the educational experiences necessary to correct or prevent the learning of racial stereotypes and prejudices that are detrimental to their functioning as a adults in a multi-racial democracy and detrimental to society as a whole.
“While this racial segregation denies all children an education that adequately prepares them to function as competitors in the labor market or as citizens in a democratic society, it is especially detrimental to African-American and Hispanic children…In their day-to-day classroom activities, African-American and Hispanic children who attend racially segregated schools do not have the opportunity to learn to successfully compete academically with children in the population at large.
“The 70 predominantly African-American / Hispanic schools in Respondent Newark School District are perceived among parents, employers and citizens at large as “African-American” or “black” or “Hispanic” schools. They are perceived to be inferior to other school districts and their graduates to have received an inferior education, regardless of their individual abilities or academic accomplishments. Their abilities and academic accomplishment are never given full value by employers or other members of society.”
The “One Newark” plan does nothing to end that segregation, the lawsuit contends. If anything, it adds another lawyer of segregation, creating a two-tiered system in which the students perceived as the “best” are hustled into charter schools while those with the most problems are left behind in what amount of public school warehouses.
How that will be played out was obvious from the scene of the press conference in front of what had been the Bragaw Avenue School—now TEAM Academy’s Life Academy. Children like the one son and four daughters of George Tillman could not get into a school like that—in fact, Anderson’s plan impossibly put his five children in five different schools. They all had been together at Newton Street School.
“How am I going to get my five children to five different schools before 8 a.m.?” he asked.
As he spoke, the air conditioners hummed. As Bragaw Avenue, a neighborhood public school, Anderson persistently turned down requests for air conditioners for the children and their teachers. But now the privately operated Life Academy has air conditioners.
And nothing more illustrated the new Newark school system that the watchful eyes of the armed, private security guards from the 24/7 Security Service. With a few exceptions in high schools, Newark security guards are not armed.
But these are not longer the people’s schools.
These are the schools belong to the friends of the governor and Cami Anderson. Apartheid—but money-making—schools.