In Newark, Anderson threatens to arrest teacher union leader

Mice droppings at Lafayette--evidence of vermin infestation
Mice droppings–evidence of vermin infestation

The state administration of the Newark public schools has banned the top staff officer of the Newark Teachers Union from a school notorious both for its poor physical condition and the efforts of its principal to fire tenured teachers.  The district’s leaders also have threatened to arrest the union chief, John Abeigon, who took pictures of vermin infestation, loose paint chips, and possible fire hazards.

Abeigon, the union’s director of organization,  said he came to the Lafayette School Annex with a representative of Newark’s locally controlled health department, exercising a clause in the district giving union leaders access to schools.

But Laurette Asante, a lawyer for the district’s “talent office,” accused Abeigon of “inappropriate conduct.” She called him “rude and belligerent”  and charged him with disrupting the “instructional program by initiating a conversation with a classroom teacher…while the class was in session.”

Loose paint chips at Lafayette School
Loose paint chips at Lafayette School

Abeigon was defiant in response to the ban and arrest threats, saying he would “continue to represent my membership–ban or no ban.” He said the NTU contract allows him to be there and city health regulations require it.

The chief union organizer said the NTU would seek an injunction overturning the ban and condemned the threat of arrests as “unprofessional.”

John Abeigon
John Abeigon

Abeigon said he was there to follow up on a Public Employment Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSHA) complaint. He said he was “met with resistance” from Maria Merlo, the school’s principal. He said he left and returned with a city health inspector.

“When I first got there, I noticed all of the fire detectors were open (without) batteries,” he said.  He said annual health and safety certificates had not been updated for two years.


Walls overly covered with paper are fire hazards
Walls overly covered with paper are fire hazards

He said he and the city inspector, together with an entourage from the school and NPS headquarters, inspected the school for three hours. Abeigon said the city inspector “left them with a written to-do list that satisfied me and the inspector.”

Asante banned Abeigon from entering the school until the end of June and warned that, if he entered “any property under the jurisdiction” of the state administration and repeated what he did at Lafayette, “you will be charged with trespassing and removed from the building by either the NPS security personnel or the Newark police department.”

Abeigon said, “The threat of arrest under these circumstances is inappropriate and cowardly in a democracy,” he said.

Merlo has been the point person for efforts by Cami Anderson, appointed to run the state’s largest district three years ago by Gov. Chris Christie, to battle the union over job security and other issues. Using a stretched interpretation of New Jersey’s new tenure law, Merlo tried to fire two popular teachers–Sandra Cheatham, a 40-year veteran, and Neil Thomas, an active unionist who testified in behalf of fellow teachers who ran afoul of the principal.

Arbitrators rejected both attempts, but Abeigon said the principal may have “dozens” more teachers in her crosshairs. In the past, the union leader said, dissenting teachers faced “radical transfers.” For example:

“You taught third grade for ten years and raised an issue at a faculty meeting and, starting the next day, you’re reassigned to eighth grade.”

He said 13 teachers resigned from the school last year and four more this year. Two years ago, the staff voted “no confidence” in the principal and, when an Anderson representative came to the school to talk to the teachers, he insisted that Merlo be present.

Unsurprisingly, Abeigon added, “no one voiced any concerns.”





  1. Anderson destroyed District 79 in New York, the joke in New York when she went to Newark was “Newark’s loss is New York’s gain”, a destructive proponent of charter schools with an agenda of her own and no real interest in students or education

  2. Dear Bob:

    I find this blog reminiscent of your S/L articles before the state takeover of Newark. Imagine, if Tom Kean was Governor of NJ today. He would have had his Education Commisioner Saul Cooperman in Newark to investigate and take action. The times have really changed.
    The NPS school heads of earlier times, Campbell, Bolden, Pfeffer, and ,even, Beverly Taylor would have raced to Layfayette to find out what was going on, as well as the local politicians, and promised to resolve the issues discussed in your blog.
    It seems the NPS school officials of today really feel as they have minimal relationship to their constituents. Instead, their main jobs appears to bully everyone they come in contact with-students, parents, union, community.


  3. Cami Andersonis is a joke to even allow children and teachers to work under those conditions where vermin infestation, paint chips, and even non working fire alarms is not only a health but safety as well.
    But I guess in the eyes of Christie,
    Anderson, and Asante that’s fine it acceptable, they would not ever work in those conditions but for children and
    teachers that’s fine.
    Another as part of a union the teachers do not and should not voice their opinion unless they have Union represtation just like Merlo should watch what she says to her teachers. I thankfully do not have my kids in that school but if I did after this article I would be speaking to an attorney.

  4. 1. Does L Asante have a fiduciary role for the welfare of NPS minors as an attorney for Newark Board of Ed?
    2. Is L Asante also the governor-appointed member of NJ Motor Vehicle Commission?

    1. Friends, let us look at this in the proper context. Ms. Asante is a lawyer, and the director of the district’s Department of Labor Relations. First, and Bob will agree, her responsibility is to defend the Constitution’s integrity, not the general safety and welfare of children and employees. Second, she has an obligation to protect the interests of her client, the Newark Public Schools’ department of Human Resources, to whom she reports, and whose interests do not include the safety of children and employees.

      The department’s name is misleading. “Labor Relations” suggests that there is a relationship between management and labor. It further suggests that there is a unit that works to maintain that relationship. That department’s function is to protect the district’s interests, and enforce the district’s rights opposite the unions.

      Ms. Asante’s title as director, her position as a lawyer (but not a board lawyer) and the actions she’s taken against Mr. Abeigon paint a portrait of her as some powerful executive. The fact of the matter is, she does what she’s told to keep her non-union paycheck. This should not be construed as defense of Ms. Asante. This commentary is meant to clarify who and what is really at work here.

      For all of his Hawaiian shirts, Mr. Abeigon is not exactly Mr. Personality. He can be abrasive, and that is no doubt a property of what I choose to believe is his passion for justice. That abrasiveness has rubbed people like Cami Anderson and Vanessa Rodriguez, Ms. Asante’s direct boss, the wrong way. And when Mr. Abeigon makes a smart move and rustles Cami and Vanessa’s feathers, they get scared and start pushing buttons, particularly those of people like Ms. Asante, who is well verse in labor law and knows better than to make empty threats barring labor leaders from the buildings of the constituents they represent.

      1. As attorney Asante protects the interests of her client, the NPS Talent Office, does she strive to protect client from potential lawsuits if fire/smoke detectors are open/lacking batteries in a school? Or if there are other hazards?

        1. No. That’s what the adjoining department, Risk Management and the Legal Department are for.

  5. I cannot understand how, the Star Ledger, does not write a single word about,vermin infestation, loose paint chips, and possible fire hazards in a public school annex with five and six year olds. Accept it was not found in an affluent neighborhood.Thank you again Bob, for keeping those who care informed. I suspected the, Christie & Anderson, cronies didn’t appreciate the “rude and belligerent’ behavior cause it sounded too much like their bosses.

    1. Now those in charge of keeping the public safe and protected from abusive actions are using their heads. E.G., ARE there seat belts on the buses that are transporting students to and from school? How about the buses taking students and staff to athletic events? Are there seat belts on those buses? Keep it simple. Investigate the obvious. Fire alarms, furnaces, crossing guards, (are they placed at all the

      1. Students assigned NJ Transit bus passes are riding busses that do not have seat belts. I called NJ Transit re seatbelts when Bob Braun’s Facebook page noted 6-year-old ineligible for “hub bus” was assigned NJT bus pass. That mother would have to pay 4 fares to accompany/pick up child–and I think have to quit work to do so.
        Your question is timely; I was wondering how bus hubs are proceeding.

        Bob, have you heard from families? The mom w/ early job in Jersey City whose daughter would have to traipse thru Weequahic Park at 0-dark-thirty?

    2. The Star-Ledger is a full time Protection Racket for Chris Christie. That fact is evident by what they don’t publish about him. Sadly, the Star-Ledger can no longer be thought of as a legitimate news publication. It’s now more like FOX ‘News,” The Daily ‘News,’ & the NY Post. INFERIOR, at best! #Boycott

  6. It is clear that CAMI will continue to bully the parents,community,teachers and everyone until all parents speak out and stop staying silent to the injustice she is causing.

  7. Thank you thank you Mr. Braun for telling us about this. This is very bad. I had children in the Lafayette Annex but I thought it was a safe place to be for my kids. Now I’m scared that my kids may be sick. Miss Merlo is the principal and she should KNOW what the building is like. I saw the bad paint in the school and junk but parents think that schools are safe. Im mad at the principal and the vice principals. Why are they no charged with breaking laws. Where are the people we vote for like the mayor and Mr. Amador. Everybody is quiet now. We want a playground but we want a safe school. Time for more people to check on Lafayette school.

  8. There is a special place in hell for people like Cami , Merlo and gov. Christie

  9. 1. Can the PTO officers at each Newark school ask whether “annual health and safety certificates” are current? (Lafayette may not be the only school that’s overdue.) Parents deserve to know.

    2. Was the Chief Intervention Officer for NPS at NJ DoEd notified re the problems at Lafayette? Will he check the safety of all district schools? Many Newark schools are older than South Brunswick HS, where he was principal.

  10. According to the One Newark application for 2013-14, Lafayette is a “great” school.

  11. As an old alumni of Lafayette St school, u must say this is way overdue. The paint chips were thee when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s. And I used to get bad nosebleeds when the heat was on, on the top floor. This school is the oldest running school in the whole state of NJ. Something needs to be done.

  12. My mother worked at Lafayette Street Annex for over twenty years. She died of a weird form of cancer..I remember her telling me how she would have to organize closets and attic for months at a time. Now I am wondering if the school is falling apart like that can she have gotten cancer from some environmental issue.

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