Newark public schools are open today despite some 12 inches of snow in some parts of the city. The city’s charter schools—whose leaders insist are just as public as conventional public schools—were closed. Apparently the safety of charter school children and teachers is more dear to the hearts of Newark’s school leaders than is the welfare of conventional public school children and employees.
Essex County—Newark is the county seat—is under a state of emergency. Every other school district in the county is closed. Every school district in neighboring Union County is closed.
Every district bordering Newark—Elizabeth, Hillside, Irvington, East Orange, South Orange-Maplewood, Belleville, and Bloomfield—is closed.
The Montclair schools, where state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf really lives, are closed. The Montgomery schools, where Cerf says he lives, are closed. The Delbarton School, where the governor sends his children, is closed.
It makes sense to close schools during a snow emergency. Children could get hurt. Could it be the state administration of the Newark schools doesn’t care about the city’s children?
There is a context for all of this. Contexts, actually. Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of of the Newark public schools, is at war with the people of Newark.
Just one week ago today, four Newark princpals appeared at a rally in a church and spoke up on behalf of the fears of Newark residents about a plan to close or transfer to charters or otherwise “repurpose” about a third of the city’s public schools.
Within 48 hours, Anderson suspended those four principals indefinitely. They were ordered downtown, their keys were taken away and their emails were blocked. Their names are H. Grady James, Deneen Washington, Dorothy Handfield, and Tony Motley.
Just as the snow began to fall Tuesday, Jan. 21, “investigators” from Anderson’s office were dispatched to the schools these principals led to interrogate teachers and parents. The tone of the questions made it obvious what would happen to these principals—they would be accused of fomenting opposition to the Anderson’s ill-conceived plan to close public schools and boost charter schools, called, ironically, “One Newark.”
No investigation, this. This is a witch-hunt. Welcome to Salem on the Passaic.
On that same Wednesday last week, Daryn Martin, the president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at the Ivy Hill School arrived at the school to find two highly-paid school administrators from Central Office tearing down notices he had put up announcing a PTO meeting.
He tried to stop them. Martin, who has two children in the school, was banned from ever setting foot in the school or any school property. The school principal, Lisa Brown, was suspended for allowing Martin to post the PTO notices—although the notices had always been permitted before. This time, however, the PTO members wanted to talk about “One Newark.”
Talking about “One Newark”—unless you support it—is dangerous in the city of Newark.
But not so dangerous as sending children to school in a snow emergency.
While this was happening last week, a Newark central office employee named Jacqueline Bostic—once active herself in the Vailsburg schools as parent—was getting upset about what was happening to her school district.
She went to use the ladies’ room and got on her cell phone. She said something that was apparently taken to be critical of “One Newark.” She, too, was suspended by Anderson.
But there is more context to this. Last November, in a fit of pique against Newark teachers who attended the New Jersey Education Association, Anderson sent out a letter to city parents about why she had to close the schools at the last minute because she hadn’t planned for so many teachers to be absent—despite a state law requiring schools to allow teachers to attend without penalty.
In that letter, she warned crime would go up because Newark’s children would be in the streets. It was a racist letter and she apparently recognized that because she tried to withdraw it. For thousands of children, parents, and teachers who saw the original letter, it was too late. The first version—she called it a “draft” despite her signature on it—was sent out.
So, maybe, she kept the schools open today to keep crime down in Newark.
There is more context. Anderson and her boss in Trenton, Gov. Chris Christie, are great fans of charter schools. They are doing everything they can to help the charter schools while they neglect the conventional public schools. Money for new construction for charter schools easily goes through the state Economic Development Authority, while money for Newark public school repairs is delayed by the state School Development Authority. The charter schools are allowed to exclude special education students, English language learners, and other needy students; regular public schools can’t. Charter schools somehow manage to let problem students go—but not until after they receive public money for them.
And, now, charter school children and their teachers can stay home during a snow emergency, but regular public school children and their teachers cannot. Making the charters even more popular.
As my friend and long-time school observer, Rob Broderick notes, “This is being done to drive down attendance numbers in the regular Newark public schools. Thus, the Notabully gang can use the lower attendance figures to “prove” that kids there don’t think they’re getting a good education and should go to charter schools instead. Disgusting but unsurprising.”
And, of course, it put many teachers who also are parents of school-aged children in a terrible bind if they don’t live in Newark. Either they can stay home with their own kids and be penalized at work–or come in, only to discover that parents of their schoolchildren kept their kids home to be safe. (Thanks, Nan-Cee).
So far, it looks as if Newark schools had about 10-12 percent attendance. Newark–and state–taxpayers paid a lot of money to heat and light empty schools. But it looks as if the parents of Newark’s children had more sense than did Cami Anderson.
I know the mainstream media doesn’t want to touch much of this story. The newspaper I once worked for keeps calling Anderson’s plans “bold and sensible” –the words also used by Christie and Cory Booker. I guess Anderson thinks that, as long as she owns the heart of The Star-Ledger, no one else will see what is happening.
But, you know, guys, it is not bold and sensible to endanger children during a snow emergency.