The Newark school principals suspended for speaking publicly now have company. The state-appointed administration has cracked down on a parent organization president taping up notices of a PTO meeting and a central office clerk talking on a cell phone while using the ladies’ room. Welcome to Newark’s schools, the Republic of Fear, where even using the potty can be monitored by spies for state-imposed superintendent Cami Anderson, who, in turn, has emerged as the latest of Gov. Chris Christie’s mini-me surrogate bullies to achieve notoriety—and shame.
Daryn Martin, the PTO president at Ivy Hill School, was “banned from all Newark Public School property,” including the school attended by his 10-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, at least until July 1. His future activity will be watched, he was told in a letter from Anderson’s lawyer, and, if he doesn’t behave himself, a “subsequent ban” might be necessary.
The suspended clerk, Jacqueline Bostic, was, according to union sources, upset about the suspension of five principals and, during a visit to a lavatory at headquarters at 2 Cedar Street, was overheard expressing her dismay in a private conversation with an unidentified person. The sources said they did not know who turned the long-time school employee in or whether her conversation was picked up by a wire.
Martin and Bostic are now added to the list of critics of Anderson’s “One Newark” plan who have been disciplined in some form for objecting to a plan that would close or turn over to privately managed charter schools a third of the city’s schools. The others are H. Grady James, principal of Hawthorne Avenue School; Dorothy Handfield, principal of Belmont Runyon School; Tony Motley, principal of Bragaw Avenue School, and Deneen Washington, principal of Maple Avenue School. The four principals spoke at a Jan. 15 community forum in which they expressed opposition to “One Newark.”
Lisa Brown, the principal of the Ivy Hill School, did not attend the forum but was disciplined for supporting her school’s PTO president. “She couldn’t control what I did,” says Martin, “and now she has been punished.’’
The actions taken against the principals may have shocked those who naively believe freedom of expression still exists in the Republic of Fear. But the incidents involving Bostic and Martin have bizarre twists. Bostic did not speak openly against Anderson’s plans to sell publicly-owned real estate to private corporations like Pink Hula Hoop. Using the bathroom is usually attended by an expectation of privacy. Sources did not know whether Bostic’s remarks were picked up by electronic eavesdropping equipment or were overheard by a school employee eager to weed out bad thoughts among her colleagues.
Electronic eavesdropping equipment did play a minor, background role in the confrontation between Martin and central office administrators at Ivy Hill School. Martin says he posted the notices of a PTO meeting on the school doors and then saw them being torn down by a man named Gary Beidleman, a special assistant at central office, and Tiffany Hardrick, an assistant superintendent.
Like many hired by Anderson—even Anderson herself—Beidleman formerly worked in New York City, first as the principal of a privatized school funded by—who else?—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Although the school was not terribly successful (parents complained about a lack of discipline), he got a job where Anderson worked, where Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf worked, and where the powers behind TEAM Academy Charter Schools worked–in the central office. Run by Joel Klein.
Until Beidleman started tearing down parent notices the other day, his only other moment of fame occurred when a New York City newspaper revealed that, as a principal in Brooklyn, he purchased and used secret video recording devices hidden in boom-boxes. The bigger scandal was that the purchase was made from a store operated by the New York City Department of Education—a store that also sold sexually explicit materials. That’s the way of reform in Mike Bloomberg’s education department. Anything to make a buck.
Beidleman claimed he didn’t know the boom-boxes were actually secret cameras when he bought them.
Anyway, according to the letter given to Martin, the PTO president “confronted” Beidleman and Assistant Superintendent Tiffyany Hardrick “in a threatening manner.” The letter, written by Charlotte Hitchcock, then states:
“At that time, you argued with both Ms. Hardrick and Mr. Beidleman about a flyer, snatched the flyer from their possession and then assaulted Ms. Hardrick by pushing her body with your hands twice and then assaulted Mr. Beidleman by pushing his body with your hands as well.”
Martin, a church deacon, denies he assaulted anyone. He says Hardrick and Beidleman pushed him when he tried to recover the fliers torn from the doors. Martin called the police to charge the central office administrators with assault—but Hardrick and Beidleman did not. Also, a report filed by a school security officer about the incident mentions an argument but no assault against two central office administrators.
I asked Matthew Frankel, the chief spokesman for Cami Anderson, about the incidents involving Martin and Bostic and this was his response:
“Please direct questions regarding Mr. Martin to the Newark Police Department. I am sure after your 50 years of fair and balanced reporting you would know that this is currently a police matter and I cannot comment.”
(I am accustomed to snarkiness and personal attacks from flacks in the Christie Administration. It’s their special way of avoiding the facts).
The Newark police have not come up with a complaint from Hardrick or Beidleman directed against Martin. If either were assaulted by Martin—a tall and imposing man—I am sure they would want to charge him with a crime.
So, why would high-priced talent like Hardrick and Beidleman come to the Ivy Hill School and tear down fliers posted by the school’s PTO president? Martin says the flier announced a regularly scheduled PTO meeting for the next evening and listed the agenda items. That, says Martin, is what provoked the confrontation.
The agenda items include “School Closings (Redesign),” “The Selling of NPSchools,” and “One Newark Games.”
“I guess they didn’t want us talking about their plans for us,’’ Martin says.
Anderson has yet to explain what “redesign” means but Ivy Hill is headed for it.
Martin is an organizer for District 1199J of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers. He is a deacon at New Hope Baptist Church in Jersey City.
“I’ve been taking my kids to school, bringing them inside, ever since the oldest started school,’’ says Martin, who adds he was most hurt when he learned he would not be able to see his son sing and read in a special commemoration of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I promised my son I’d be there,” he said. “That really hurt bad.”