Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe has agreed to meet with representatives of the Newark students who shut down a city school board meeting Tuesday night with their demands for the resignation of state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson.
Michael Yaple, a spokesman for Hespe, said he “can confirm that the commissioner and superintendent plan to meet with students. I do not have anything on the date or the time.”
The meeting, if it occurs, would represent a major coup for city forces arrayed against Anderson who initially refused to meet with the students who sat in at Tuesday night’s meeting and then staged an all night sit-in at board offices at 2 Cedar Street.
It also would represent a slap to Anderson whose immediate reaction was to criticize the students for allegedly allowing themselves to be “coached” by adults in what she called a “politically orchestrated” demonstration. Her comments set off renewed statements of protest from students who, in many ways, have been in front of adults protesting Anderson’s “One Newark” enrollment plan.
Anderson’s full statement:
“I am unequivocally supportive of our students expressing their opinions and positions on issues – and at every point last evening and this morning our team treated them with the utmost of respect. I, and many members of the board, are also adamant that the district must conduct business in a professional and respectful manner including when we disagree. The young people who were coached by adults to stage a sit-in last night disrupted the meeting where they would have had the opportunity to speak, shouted at members who tried to bring the meeting to order and refused my offer to meet with them because of other plans on their schedules. As adults, we must set high expectations for our young people and support them in expressing their views in a productive fashion. The politically orchestrated event that happened last night certainly does not model excellence for students.”
The students called her statement “all lies” and denied they were led by adults–although some of the students are, in fact, adults, a point that Anderson might have missed.
Anderson would know about politically orchestrated events. Particularly after her supporters–most from New York and other states– spent $4 million trying to protect her job by buying the election for her candidate in the Newark mayoralty race, Shavar Jeffries. Jeffries, also backed by South Jersey political boss George Norcross and the Essex County machine beaded by Joseph DiVincenzo, lost to Baraka, 54 to 46 percent. DiVincenzo betrayed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono last year and campaigned for Gov. Chris Christie.
NSU representatives said details of the meeting were being “hammered out” and would be available within 24 hours.
The students–only nine stayed the night–received strong support from city officials, most notably Mayor-elect Ras Baraka who joined them around midnight and stayed with them for an hour. He said he supported the student demands–including Anderson’s resignation–and went to the sit-in to ensure the students were “treated right.”
The students also demanded an end to the so-called “One Newark” plan. The enrollment plan would close neighborhood public schools in favor of opening new charter schools, including some established by TEAM Academy, whose board chairman is a former business associate of former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. Anderson recently sold a public school building to TEAM for less than market value. Anderson, Cerf, and TEAM trustee chair Tim Carden all worked together in New York.
Others who stayed with the students included City Council members John Sharpe James and Mildred Crump; Rashon Hasan and Antoinette Baskerveille Richardson, members of the school board, and Deborah Gregory Smith, the head of the Newark-Essex NAACP.
Robert Cabanas of NJ Communities United also stayed with the students and his organization provided support for the protest. The organization’s executive director, Trina Scordo, released this statement:
“The struggle that the Newark Students Union has embarked upon is about rebuilding the democratic process for public education that was stripped by the State nearly two decades ago. The privatization efforts by Chris Christie and his cronies to profitize Newark’s public schools is nothing more than the funneling of public funds into private hands. The State has dismantled any democratic process and instituted a state controlled dictatorship exemplified by Governor Christie’s statement last year that, ‘We run the school district – not them.’
“The movement to fight the attack on public education in Newark has become militant because of the lack of leadership from the State and the utter disregard for the community’s vision and desire for our schools. Christie-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson refuses to attend board meetings, walks out of meetings and disrespects the self-determination of students, parents, teachers and families in Newark. Yet, she has time to travel around the country and make disparaging remarks about the City of Newark and the families who live here. She is an out-of-state pawn placed in the City to advance private interests and profit. She believes that adults coached students into their occupation of the Newark Public Schools headquarters located at 2 Cedar Street. Here is the truth: Yes, the students are supported by adults and organizations that strategize with them to make sure their vision is heard and enacted; however, the Newark Students Union makes their own decisions.
“Cami Anderson refuses to acknowledge the liberation movement taking place in Newark because she cannot imagine taking a step without permission from her ‘masters’: Governor Christie, Prudential and Wall Street hedge fund privatizers. Under the Governor’s purview , she has attempted to intimidate students, parents and teachers, going so far as to fire principals, put schools on lock down during student-led walk outs and threatening students who attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“NJ Communities United fully supports the Newark Students Union and will continue to work closely with them to make sure their agenda moves forward. Families and parents have stood by their every action from marches to walkouts to the school board occupation – and Cami and Christie have rebuked and ignored these students at every turn.
“So here is the message that NJ Communities United and our members have for Cami and the Governor: the students are emboldened, the Newark community is emboldened. You may run the district, but we run our communities. We are in solidarity and will continue to escalate the fight until the Newark Promise replaces One Newark.”
Kristen Towkaniuk, the president of the Newark Students Union, said early this morning the students would not give up their protest until they had received some indication state and local officials would speak with them. Hespe’s agreement to speak with the students apparently brought the protest to a peaceful end.