The Gray Charter School in Newark has warned its students they face punishment, including reductions in their academic grades, if they do not attend and participate in a school-sponsored holiday program scheduled off-campus at night and bring at least one adult who must purchase a $25 ticket and provide transportation after the show ends.
Verna Gray, described in school literature as the school’s founder, executive director and principal, sent a letter home to parents insisting the children in the privately-operated but publicly-funded charter school must “participate in school performances throughout the year.”
“These performances are mandatory for all students and will directly affect their Language Arts grade which includes the area of performances, public speaking, and an overall oral language grade,” Gray wrote. (Emphasis in the original letter).
If, for whatever reason, parents do not allow their children to attend the “Winter Festival,” “their grades will suffer.”
In addition, children–all of whom are in elementary grades–not attending the performance will “be given an extra amount of homework for that evening.”
The homework, wrote Gray, will be “do in completion the next school day.” She apparently meant “due,” just as she incorrectly wrote the name of the location of the Winter Festival. She wrote it would be held at the “Roberson Campus Center” at Rutgers-Newark. The center is, in fact, named after Paul Robeson, the internationally-known singer and author who, despite his status as a brilliant student and athlete, was largely ignored for decades by Rutgers because he was an outspoken black activist.
While Gray wants to load both bad grades and homework on children who cannot attend the $25-per-adult festival, she also dictated that children who do attend and participate “will not have any homework assigned on that evening.”
More important, perhaps, the Robeson Center, in the city’s Central Ward, is some distance from the Gray Charter School on Liberty Street, bordering the East Ward. Children attending the city’s charter schools could come from any neighborhood in the state’s largest city.
Gray told the parents that, while she is willing to have the school transport the children to the Winter Festival, “The Gray Charter School IS NOT RESPONSIBLE for the returning of your child to our school address (55 Liberty Street) after the performance. ” (Emphasis in the original).
Gray continued: “It is YOUR responsibility (the Parent) to either attend the performance so that you can take your child home at the evening’s end or arrange for another family to be in attendance to do the same.” (Emphasis in original).
In other words, it is not just good enough to arrange to have the children taken home at night from the Robeson Center, the person picking up the child must buy a $25 ticket. And they have to buy it before noon the day of the performance, Dec. 16.
“This is so punishing in so many ways,” said a source close to a parent at the school. “What if a child is too shy to perform? What if a child’s parent has to work or cannot afford the $25 a ticket?
“We all understand that parents should become more involved in the lives of their children, but what if they can’t? Why should the children be punished? And how do you justify basing an academic grade on such circumstances?”
This reporter called Gray to ask about the letter to parents but was told by someone answering the phone that the school’s principal “could not come to the phone” and would call later. She never did.
Gray founded the Gray Charter School in 2000. She describes herself as a “super teacher who refused to be average.” She says she operates her school “like an elite private school.”
Private schools like The Pingry School in Short Hills and Martinsville, Delbarton in Morristown, The Oak Knoll School in Summit and others conduct annual holiday shows. Attendance is not mandatory and parents and other relatives wishing to see the performances are not charged. These schools also do not receive public funding.
Although charter schools receive public funding, many do engage in private fund raising. They have been criticized for using academics as a way to make money.