Residents of Newark’s South Ward yesterday launched a city-wide petition drive to ask the Legislature to block a state-imposed reorganization they say would “hurt children and destroy communities.”
Hassan Manning, the PTA president at the Maple Avenue School, one of the more than 20 city schools that will be shuttered, redesigned, or turned over to charter management, said he and other school supporters were “shocked” to learn the elementary school would be closed.
“We had no idea,” said Manning. “It will destroy our sense of neighborhood and hurt local businesses. The sense of family will be gone.”
He and about 30 other residents rallied briefly in front of the school and then began canvassing the neighborhood seeking signatures for the petition aimed at state lawmakers. The petition reads:
“In late December, 2013, just days before the start of winter vacation, the Christie administration informed Newark families that it was closing many of our public schools and turning others over to private management.
“The school closings and privatization would: Eliminate local public school options for thousands of children, forcing some to take two to three buses to get to school; Destroy school communities that go back more than 80 years; Remove historic public buildings from community use.
“Yet we, the people of Newark, whose children attend those public schools, were not consulted in any way before the Christie administration made this decision.
“In fact, Newark residents have been shut out of all decisions affecting our public schools, as we battle two decades of state domination.
“But we are fighting back! We want to save our public schools and we need your help!
“Please sign this petition, asking the New Jersey Legislature to require a community vote before public schools can be closed or privatized. Many New Jersey legislators pledged to oppose forced school closings. Now it is time for them to show that they really meant it.
“Public schools belong to the people, and the people of Newark should get to decide what happens to our children and our public schools!”
The state-imposed reorganization plan, entitled “One Newark,” also is expected to result in the loss of jobs for teachers and other school employees, many of whom are Newark resident.
The petition drive follows by a week a press conference by city and state officials who condemned the state plan. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) called it “an atrocity.”
That press conference was held in front of Newark’s historic Weequahic High School. That school also will be closed as a traditional high school and turned over to charter management. The school’s alumni association, made up of some of Newark’s most famous high school graduates, announced it also would oppose the state-mandated plan.
Next week, parents and staff members at Bragaw Avenue school also are planning a rally in opposition to the plan.