There is a lot of cruelty in the way Newark schools treat parents and their children. Especially the way the state-run school administration treats the neediest, the most powerless. Just ask Isabel Troche and her four children.
Here it is in mid-October and Isabel’s children are not in school yet. They only live a few hundred feet from what should be their neighborhood public school–but they can’t go there. In fact, all four of the children have been assigned–for now–to four different schools.
If it were not so cruel, it might almost be funny. A joke about the pratfalls of bureaucracy. But what is happening to Isabel’s children is no joke. It is the deliberate and foreseeable consequence of a state policy called “One Newark” designed to close neighborhood public schools, expand privately-run charter schools and strip the school district of resources and hope.
It also is the result of the collapse of the effort by a broad cross-section of Newark’s residents to fight back against the state–a fight that collapsed in an alleged deal to bring back local control after 20 years of inept state administration.
The members of Isabel Troche’s family are, simply, victims of the state’s indifference to Newark’s residents and of the fecklessness of a local response. No one is fighting back for Isabel’s children.
“I keep going to places–the schools, the enrollment center, downtown–and they tell me they’ll get back to me but they never do,” says Isabel. “I’ve been trying for weeks and I still can’t get the kids into school.”
If Isabel’s children are placed in the four different schools to which they have been assigned, they probably won’t be able to get there. Isabel has no transportation and the jokers at school headquarters in Newark expect the four kids to be in four different places at the same time.
What is happening to Isabel’s children is neither rare nor complicated. Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka–before his criticisms of state control fell quiet–charged that hundreds of families were misplaced by the state-run school administration. “One Newark” distributed children around the city as if they were goods to be delivered rather than children to be protected and educated.
Baraka once demanded the immediate dismantling of “One Newark.” Then he said it should be dismantled piece-meal. Now he doesn’t talk about it much at all.
But those scores, if not hundreds, of misplaced children are still out there, somewhere, trying to find placement in schools their parents can get to, somehow. Isabel’s children–Anthony, Jose, William, and Nashley–are among them
The burden is cruelest for those who began the process of trying to get into Newark schools late. Like Isabel and her four children who moved into Newark less than a month ago, long after most available seats were filled in what is left of the city’s neighborhood schools.
Years ago, she would have shown up with her kids, walked down the street and registered them in the neighborhood school and that would have been that. But the neighborhood school–once Madison Avenue–is now a privately run charter school, the Newark Legacy Charter School. And Isabel’s children can’t go there. That’s part of the cruel joke.
Charter schools aren’t just for anyone, after all. Besides, three of Isabel’s four children are special needs students and charter schools in Newark simply aren’t expected to shoulder their share of the burden of teaching the city’s neediest kids. That would lower their performance scores–bad for marketing.
No, in her travels, Isabel was told that the oldest, Anthony, will go to Weequahic. He’s 15. Her 14-ear-old, Jose, will go to Hawthorne Avenue’s 8th grade. William, 12, will go to Cleveland and the youngest, visually impaired Nashley, well, no one is sure yet exactly where she can go.
But, in fact, says Isabel, these designations of schools to which her kids have been assigned are meaningless because she has been told she can’t starting bringing them in yet because there is no transportation for them. The paperwork isn’t right.
And, even once the paperwork is finished and a theoretical transportation plan is developed, it is simply not practical for her to send four children, three of them special needs, one of them blind, to four different schools spread out over the city of Newark.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” says Isabel who doesn’t own her own car and depends on a friend to get her around. She can’t work and lives on Social Security.
State-appointed school superintendent Christopher Cerf, the friend and former employer of Gov. Chris Christie who developed the “One Newark” plan, doesn’t like to be reminded publicly of his cruelty to people like Isabel’s children. When a story like this one gets out–most parents are too frightened to complain or just don’t know how–Cerf usually does something to fix the problem.
Let’s hope, for the sake of Isabel’s children, he does something for them.
Let’s also hope that local politicians who were elected to defend the rights of Isabel’s children, the rights of all public school children, find their courage again.
Isabel Troche, unlike the people who run charter schools, are never likely to contribute to a political campaign.
But, guys, they do need your help far more than Montclair millionaires do.
Note: In an earlier version of this story, I wrote that the former public school a few hundred feet from the Troche home was the South 17th Street School. It was, in fact, the Madison school. I apologize for the error.