Cami Anderson, the Christie-appointed Newark schools superintendent, apparently will pay no price for sending out a letter to Newark families contending that, when their children are home from school, they get into trouble, crime goes up, and the city is ”less safe.” She will not lose her $240,000-a-year job or her $50,000 bonus, she will not have to apologize, and she won’t even have to admit she sent out the letter. Teachers, however, who have made less inflammatory comments have paid with their tenured jobs.
Anderson made the comments in a letter she emailed to schools Nov. 12 with instructions that it be copied and distributed to children to take home. It was mostly a rant against the Newark Teachers Union for supporting teachers who opted to attend the annual convention of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) convention in Atlantic City Nov. 7 and 8.
Although law requires districts to permit teachers, without penalty, to attend the convention, Anderson had produced a calendar that indicated the schools were open Nov. 7 and 8. On Nov. 6, when it became apparent more than 1,000 of the city’s teachers would not be in school, she canceled classes for students and ordered hastily arranged in-service sessions for teachers not going to Atlantic City.
Because of a revised calendar, students would ultimately lose no days from school. Still, Anderson’s letter told parents, “The more time your child has to learn, the less opportunity for trouble and the greater possibility for success.’’
In the past, she wrote, when schools were closed for the NJEA convention, “with too many young people idle, crime went up.” Closing for two days, she wrote, hurt the schools, “making our city less safe.” The Newark Public Schools administration and the Newark Police Department could not provide evidence to back up these assertions. Statistics from the US Justice Department show the opposite to be true–most juvenile crime occurs on school days, in the hours after dismissal and in he absence of after-school programs.
After a number of school administrators saw Anderson’s letter and objected to it, she withdrew it and replaced it with a sanitized version that, while deleting the reference to children getting into trouble and causing an increase in crime, kept the reference to the “less safe” city. But thousands of parents and children of at least four schools in the city received the “wrong” letter. They learned what Christie, Cerf and Anderson really thought of them.
The official silence that followed the publication of the letter contrasted with the hard line Anderson’s boss, the commissioner, took in a 2011 case in which a Paterson teacher, Jennifer O’Brien, wrote on Facebook that she was a “warden for future criminals” and insisted her first graders needed “scared straight” sessions.
Adopting the language of a hearing examiner’s report, Christopher Cerf wrote:
“A student’s hopes and fears about the future are more intensely felt in the urban environment where O’Brien’s students live, and where children do not have the luxury of being shielded from poverty, violence and crime. O’Brien teaches in a community where the sentiment that a six-year old will not rise above the criminal element that surrounds him cuts right to the bone. To have those comments come from the very person entrusted with expanding the opportunities available to Paterson children cuts even deeper. Indeed, O’Brien is responsible for far more than teaching her first graders to read, write and wait their turn. She is responsible for nurturing their potential.’’
Apparently, a school employee who makes $300,000 a year—Cami Anderson—an administrator who is responsible for nurturing the potential of all of Newarlk’s 40,000 school children, more than percent of whom are African American or Hispanic—is judged by lower standards.
Anderson will skate. She will be given a free pass. She will not be fired. Unlike Jennifer O’Brien, a teacher with an unblemished 13-year record, Anderson will not be held accountable. She can write a racially charged letter to the families of thousands of Newark school children and pay no penalty. She can, in Cerf’s words, cut families to the bone and just laugh about it because nothing happened.
Why? Here are four reasons:
1) Anderson is a creature of Gov. Chris Christie and former mayor, now US Sen., Cory Booker, allies in the “reform” of the Newark school system. Anderson is their puppet. Only Christie can cut the strings and fire her and he won’t. He is hardly sensitive to the needs of minority children. He already has told the Newark community their input means nothing. He all but bragged about how his family left town when the town became, well, different. Anderson helped run Booker’s mayoral campaign; they are pals. She is simply too useful to both of them.
2) The children of Newark and their parents are not players, so the larger community in the state and the nation doesn’t care what is said about them. They have little or no political clout. Anderson’s letter came out at the same time U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made his feckless comments about how common core standards would upset “white suburban moms.” His comments were denounced nationally and he apologized. Let’s face it: white suburban moms—and dads—are more important to the nation’s politicians and media than minority parents in Newark.
3) Political leaders and civic organizations don’t care. On Monday night, the Newark city council discussed Anderson’s letter—it was brought up by newly-elected Councilman John Sharpe James—but it failed to take any action. James issued a statement printed here in its entirety but other councilman declined to provide me with statements. While laudable, James’ comments were tepid—he asked for an apology, he should have demanded her resignation. Although the NTU issued a statement criticizing Anderson’s letter, it answered the sanitized version and has said nothing publicly about the original letter. The NJEA, which does count some Newark school employees as members, has said nothing. No legislators have commented.
4) The press doesn’t care. The Star-Ledger printed nothing on the controversy—despite the discussion—in its story about the city council meeting. It also published a column that bashed Newark teachers for selfishly wanting to park their cars in the secure playground of the Lafayette Street School (As a former Ledger employee, I can testify that the newspaper has two secure and guarded lots at its Newark location). Reporters and editors knew of the story but did not pursue it. Didn’t even ask whether she sent out the letter so she wasn’t embarrassed by the question. Perhaps it would be inconsistent with the traditional anti-teacher, anti-union, stance of the paper. Perhaps bad news about Christie’s agent in Newark would confuse the barrage of Christie-for-president booster stories it has been running.
What’s obvious is a cruel and hypocritical double standard. Tenured teachers can be fired for derogatory comments about children—even if their children and their parents are unaware of them. School superintendents who send derogatory letters home to parents get to enjoy their $300,000 salaries without consequence.
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