An Essex County grand jury has thrown out an effort by state-appointed Newark school superintendent Christopher Cerf to have the president of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) indicted on “defiant trespass” charges.
The Essex Coutny prosecutor’s office presented the case to a grand jury despite the failure of Cerf’s administration to pursue the case against John Abeigon who had visited the Oliver Street School in the wake of the death of a child, apparently from meningitis.
“I guess the prosecutor’s office wanted to save face for both itself and Cerf,” said Abeigon who released the official notification of a “no bill”–a refusal of the grand jury to indict.
“It’s just another example of how vindictive Cerf and the state administration can be toward anyone who disagrees with him or with his governor,” said Abeigon who has repeatedly called for Cerf’s resignation.
Cerf, the former state education commissioner, was appointed Newark superintendent in a deal last spring between Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. In the deal, Cami Anderson, appointed by Cerf to be superintendent in 2011, would be removed and Christie offered a vague promise that he would return local control after more than 20 years of state operation of New Jersey’s largest school district.
The Cerf/Baraka deal brought a sudden halt to a growing storm of protest against Christie, Anderson and state control and opened a new era of cooperation between the mayor and the governor over such issues as charter school expansion, the development of community schools, and acceptance of cuts to the Newark public school budget.
Unlike many community organizations, the NTU didn’t buy into the new era of cooperation between the state-operated school district and the city–although, as some readers have pointed out, the NTU is hardly the militant force it should be in the city’s community.
In March of last year, Abeigon visited the Oliver Street School to talk to teachers and other staff members who may have been in contact with a child who apparently contrcated and died if meningitis. The district’s officials initially lied about the circumstances, contending the child had not been contagious while in the school.
School officials, led by principal Douglas Petty, refused to allow Abeigon to speak with teachers, despite provisions in contract that allow the NTU to discuss health and safety issues with its members.
The complaint signed by Petty contended Abeigon “pulled away” from school officials while he was being escorted out of the building, “ran” upstairs and was later “found” outside the classroom of the child who had died and was again escorted outside.
The complaint from Petty called the crime “criminal trespass.” The law cited is 2C:18-3A, the state law against trespassing. It is usually a disorderly persons offence, but, if the crime is committed on school property, it becomes a fourth-degree offense, an indictable crime with much harsher penalties. The teacher union leader could have been stripped of his instructional license if found guilty.
Abeigon says the district not only lied about when the child was at school, but also about its efforts to disinfect the school to prevent further infection of children and staff members. He said he found “September dust” in area of the school where the child had been, indicating the facility had not been cleaned after the death of the child.
The union leader contended school officials repeatedly failed to show up to prosecute the case and the Essex County prosecutor’s office finally presented it to a grand jury.