Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has called upon President Barack Obama to intervene in the city’s schools to stop what he called the “disruptive and illegal educational reforms” known as “One Newark.”
In an extraordinary four-page letter, Baraka listed dozens of violations of state and federal law and local school board policy and recited frustrating local efforts to stop them. He concludes only a “presidential intervention” can prevent “further harm to the education of our students and the rights of our citizens.” He asked Obama to “act urgently.”
The mayor released the letter after an apparently unsuccessful meeting with state Education Commissioner David Hespe. Baraka had hoped to persuade the state education chief to mitigate some of the more punitive aspects of state control of the city schools. He mentions the failure of Hespe and Gov. Chris Christie to compromise in any way to ameliorate the consequences of the state plan.
“The state’s refusal to return local control of NPS”–Newark Public Schools–“to the democratically elected school board has usurped the rights of Newark residents to have input into the governance of the public schools in our city. The state has failed to fulfill the purposes of state control and our students are systematically denied access to a thorough and efficient education.”
In his letter, Baraka begins with the failure of the “One Newark” plan–an effort to close neighborhood public schools and launch new charters–and then goes on to violations of federal and state law and established school board policy.
He accuses Anderson of failing to seek any participation of city residents in “One Newark,” noting:
“This lack of community engagement is a violation of state and federal laws requiring parent and community engagement. There is broad-based disagreement with both the content of reforms being instituted and the manner in which these reforms have been unilaterally imposed upon the district. Newark children and parents are being forced to participate in enrollment schemes that assign and bus them to schools outside of their neighborhood boundaries, schools which they did not choose.”
Baraka lists the formal and informal complaints filed by Newark groups and citizens individually and his own efforts to try to persuade state officials to mitigate the more painful consequences of “One Newark.” He adds:
“Despite the consistency and severity of complaints rqised at the state and federal level, we have been unable to get either the commissioner of education or the governor to call for a halt to the One Newark plan, investigate the conditions resulting from the implementation of these specious and unproven educational reforms, or return local control.”
As a consequence, Baraka tells Obama:
“Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to bring the full scope of the problems and violations willfully being undertaken in the Newark public schools to your attention.”
What follows is a list of “violations of federal legislation and education regulations” outlined in the Baraka letter to the President:
–English Language Learners do not have appropriate placements.
–Students with disabilities do not have the services and accommodations specified in their individual education plans (IEP).
–IEPS have been changed without parental consent or notification.
–Students with disabilities have been enrolled in schools that do not have the services and cannot provide the accommodations required by their IEP.
The “One Newark” plan assigned children with disabilities to schools that could not accommodate their needs, Baraka wrote. Principals in some schools are rejecting children because they have special needs–or are telling parents they simply don’t have the programs the children need.
Baraka also listed violations of state law and regulations:
–The state’s failure to fund the school aid law.
–Public schools converted into charters without meeting the criteria for eligibility.
–Charter schools not using lotteries for admissions as required by law.
–Anderson is violating state hiring laws by bringing on ineligible employees.
–The NPS using uncertified teachers or teachers working outside the cope of their licenses.
–Class sizes exceeding state limitations.
–High school students do not have schedules and have been assigned to classes they already have taken.
The letter also reveals Baraka had discussed problems with “One Newark” with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan–and Duncan apparently agreed with the then city councilman who was running for mayor. Baraka wrote:
“At a meeting on March 15, 2014 in Union City, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed his own concerns about the scope of the reforms in the One Newark Plan, as well as the lack of community participation in its design. He advised Superintendent Anderson directly that she had too aggressive of a program.”
Last March, this site reported that Duncan tried unsuccessfully to get Anderson to slow down and she refused. At the time, a spoksman for Anderson called the report inaccurate.
Baraka asked Obama to consider Duncan’s “concerns” about Anderson’s behavior and “act urgently.”
Copies of the letter–dated Oct. 1–were sent to Duncan, Christie, Hespe, members of the state Board of Education, state Sen. Theresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Mila Jacey, Anderson, and Dr. Lauren Wells, Newark’s chief education officer.
To see the letter, click on the link below. That will take you to another page of my blog. Click on the same link on the new page and then answer that you want to open the file.