The central administration of the Newark Public Schools sent out a letter last week to “families”–a letter over the signature of state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson –that displayed unforgivable insensitivity by suggesting crime would go up because Newark’s children were not confined to their schools for the two days of the New Jersey Education Association convention. It posted the same letter on its website.
The e-mailed letter, sent to school principals Nov. 12 for distribution home through students, was withdrawn within two hours and then taken down from the website, according to multiple sources in the Newark schools.
However, in at least one school–perhaps more–the original version was sent home to some 700 families.
I originally posted the letter sent to me by a Newark teacher. I later took it down and deleted all references to it because of concerns I had about its authenticity. The letter contained grammatical mistakes. Its last sentence ended with a comma–as does the sanitized version. It was sloppily written., And, of course, it contained volatile language about the imagined criminal propensities of Newark children.
After discussions with teachers, administrators, and at least one parent, I now am confident the original version was distributed to the schools and to possibly hundreds of family members. On Friday, I also gave a spokesman for the schools, Matthew Frankel, the opportunity to deny the authenticity of the letter; he did not respond. In another e-mail, I sent him a number of questions about the letter:
“I would like to know whether the letter over Ms. Anderson’s signature was sent to the schools; whether it was withdrawn and revised; whether any families received the original letter; whether Ms. Anderson can cite evidence that crimes go up when schools are closed; whether she has a response to the Del Grosso letter in response to hers”–NTU President Joseph Del Grosso had called parts of her letter “untrue.”
Frankel, who holds the title of executive director of communication, said he wished to speak with me on the telephone. I said I preferred written answers to my written questions to avoid misunderstandings. I have written statements from school employees who saw the original letter and witnessed its distribution to students. I have hard copies of what was distributed.
Shortly before midnight Sunday, he sent this answer to my questions:
“Bob – This is the letter that went out and is posted on our web site. Thanks.” He attached the sanitized version that can be found on the website. Frankel’s note is not a lie, of course, but it hardly answers the questions I posed. The scrubbed version did, in fact, go out and is now posted on the website. I sent him a copy of the original letter and he would not comment on it.
The letter was prompted by the controversy that erupted when, on Nov. 6, Anderson announced she would close schools to students Nov. 7 and 8, the date of the annual New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) convention, causing massive inconvenience to parents and school employees. She blamed the union for the disruption, contending it encouraged Newark teachers to attend the Atlantic City convention. The union, however, pointed out that teachers were permitted by law to attend the convention without penalty and warned the schools would not be properly staffed. After the students returned Nov. 12, the central office sent out the controversial letter.
Whatever the differences over the NJEA convention, the children of Newark should not be considered nascent criminals. Anyone who believes they are has no business working in the public schools. I think Ms. Anderson should resign.
The worst of the letter is her insinuation that, without the schools open, crime would increase. First, she writes, “The more time your child has to learn, the less opportunity for trouble and the greater possibility for success.” Why insert the “opportunity for trouble” in this note? Then she says, “Families lost valuable classroom time and with too many young people idle, crime went up” when teachers attended the NJEA convention.
Anderson, who has been staunchly defended by Gov. Chris Christie and was recently awarded a $50,000 bonus, cites no evidence for this contention—and I have asked her for it. I also have asked the Newark Police Department to confirm her claims, and it hasn’t responded.
Finally, she says the union’s actions “ forced us to once again close our doors, hurting schools and making our city less safe.”
Forget for a moment that national statistics do not support her contention that juvenile crimes increase when children are home from school. In fact, the opposite is true. Juvenile crime peaks on school days in the hours after children are released from school. It is less on non-school days. There is evidence, of course, that after school programs deter that problem—but Newark is located in Christieland where “you people” don’t deserve money for after-school programs.
But the real question is this: How can someone who believes the children of Newark will go on a crime spree on non-school days serve as the superintendent of Newark’s public schools? Can anyone imagine the superintendent of the Westfield or Millburn or Mountain Lakes schools saying such a thing?
Stereotyping is wrong. Racism is wrong. Entrusting children to a superintendent who can make these comments is just wrong.
(A note about the ad: I only have one advertiser, The Garden, my local hangout where I spend at least one weekend night. If you click on the ad, then go to promotions, you can retrieve a 15 percent off coupon. Pretty good deal. Tell’em Bob sent you and maybe we can meet up).