The deeply flawed state school reorganization plan known as “One Newark” faces a federal investigation. In response to a detailed request for a probe from PULSE New Jersey, a parent activist group founded by Johnny Lattner and Sharon Smith, the U.S. Department of Education will determine whether the plan–which has confused the lives of thousands of city children and their parents–violates the civil rights of Newark parents.
Lattner and Smith, joined by national Journey for Justice director Jitu Brown, will announced the details of the investigation Wednesday at noon during a press conference scheduled for the steps of City Hall.
“We made the case that One Newark’ discriminates against children, parents, and teachers, especially in the South Ward,” said Smith, who has been working on bringing the feds into Newark for months.
Smith says she hopes the investigation, authorized by Title 6 of the federal Civil Rights statute, will be prelude to suspending the “One Newark” plan and replacing it with what Brown calls “sustainable school transformation.”
Brown’s organization is an umbrella group seeking to stop the mass closing of public schools and their replacement by corporate-driven, privately-operated charters and voucher schools. It includes, not just representatives of Newark, but also groups representing parents in Camden, Jersey City, and Paterson, like Newark, state-operated school districts that have tried to force school privatization on unwilling parents.
Smith says she expects the federal investigation to focus on three schools in Newark–Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, and Roseville Avenue. Cami Anderson, the state-imposed schools superintendent in Newark, has concentrated on schools in the city’s South Ward.
Anderson has a special relationship with leaders of TEAM Academy Charter Schools and had hoped to turn virtually the entire South Ward over to the privately-operated charter school, part of the national KIPP charter school chain.
Parent activists–especially at Hawthorne–have worked against Anderson’s plans. Its principal, H. Grady James, has so far refused to apply for his own job at Hawthorne, contending the school–the highest achieving elementary school in the district–doess not need to be subjected to Anderson’s renewal plans.
Title Six of the Civil Rights act forbids any agency receiving federal funds–and the Newark schools receive federal funds–from discriminating on the basis of race. The federal government’s website explains:
“If a recipient of federal assistance is found to have discriminated and voluntary compliance cannot be achieved, the federal agency providing the assistance should either initiate fund termination proceedings or refer the matter to the Department of Justice for appropriate legal action. Aggrieved individuals may file administrative complaints with the federal agency that provides funds to a recipient, or the individuals may file suit for appropriate relief in federal court. Title VI itself prohibits intentional discrimination. However, most funding agencies have regulations implementing Title VI that prohibit recipient practices that have the effect of discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”
PULSENJ–“Parents Unified for Local School Education”–has been working quietly “in the background,” says Smith, as parents in Newark protested Anderson’s plans–backed by Gov. Chris Christie–to privatize Newark schools.
“We were looking for the appropriate legal action to show that the plan discriminated against people of color,” she said.
PULSENJ filed the complaint against “One Newark” May 13, as part of its commemoration of the 6oth anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that outlawed school segregation. The organization wrote:
In a letter to Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the organizations ask for an immediate investigation.
“Education ‘reformers’ and privatizers are targeting neighborhood schools filled with children of color, and leaving behind devastation. By stealth, seizure, and sabotage, these corporate profiteers are closing and privatizing our schools, keeping public education for children of color, not only separate, not only unequal, but increasingly not public at all.”
Jitu Brown explained that federal education law encouraged discrimination and privatization by allowing the privatization of public schools as a consequence of school failure. Journey for Justice, the umbrella organization he heads, persuaded the federal government to add yet anther possible outcome of school failure–“sustainable school transformation,” the replacement of failing public schools with community schools that have adequate resources to ensure student success.
Brown says he hopes a a finding of discrimination will allow the development of community schools based on that model.
“What has been lacking–not only in Newark, but also in places like Chicago, New York, and New Orleans–is community input to help develop plans for successful public schools. We have been faced with top-down education policies that have failed because they lack input from the people who are most affected,” says Brown.
This is true not only in Newark, Brown says, but also in Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC.
Brown pointed out the reforms in these towns have been based, not on providing resources to the schools, but on opening up private markets to entrepreneurs.
“The programs are test driven and narrow,” says Brown. “Teachers don’t receive the resources they need. Kids are treated like criminals. If parents complain they don’t receive the wrap-around services their children need, they are accused of stealing.”