Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe continues to refuse to enforce the law requiring the state to act aggressively in improving conditions in the state-operated Newark schools—and Mayor Ras Baraka, for at least the third time, has demanded Hespe’s “immediate intervention.”
The mayor wants the unabated chaos at Barringer High School corrected—but he also is seeking help for at least 27 other schools.
“Students continue to attend classes that exceed class size limitations, are placed in core content areas with uncertified staff, and do not have textbooks,” Baraka wrote about Barringer in a letter to Hespe. “Additionally, there are serious concerns that special needs student are not receiving the services specified in their individualized education plans (IEPs) and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students do not have appropriate placements.
“Many students at Barringer High School have completely lost an entire marking period of instructional time and learning as a result of these intolerable conditions. There are numerous violations of district, state, and federal regulations and policies.”
Students and parents have complained about conditions at Barringer—which opened in September as two schools, neither of which had a principal—but Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent has refused to open the schools to public inspection. Even when Baraka himself visited the school in October, he was not allowed to bring in the media.
The issue at the core of the dispute between Baraka and the administration of Gov. Chris Christie goes far beyond the disastrous problems at Barringer, the city’s oldest high school. It has to do with the state’s refusal to follow state and federal law that requires efforts to improve education before Anderson can go ahead with her plans to close more public schools and launch new privately operated charter schools. She already has decided to press ahead with more closings and more privatization—but the list of public schools targeted for closing has not been released.
If, as Baraka and others have repeatedly pointed out, Anderson and Hespe refuse to follow the law, then her “One Newark” plan is illegal. The Education Law Center, a public interest law firm, already has accused Anderson of breaking the law and several suits have been filed to force Christie’s surrogates to obey the law. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools has demanded an investigation of Anderson’s failure to comply with the law.
The lawsuits have sought to block the implementation of Anderson’s “One Newark” plan until she and Hespe abide by the law. So far, however, both have ignored the law—and repeatedly ignored demands by Baraka and others for school improvements.
This is what the law requires—if schools are designated as “priority” or “focus” schools, then the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well as state regulations, require the state to provide “intensive intervention…to improve student performance, through improvement plans and supports, and ongoing progress monitoring.”
The state established so-called “Regional Assistance Centers” (RACs) that were supposed to complete a review of each school’s performance and develop and implement a school improvement plan. Anderson has done none of that—and the RACs have not done anything for the city schools.
“The deplorable conditions at Barringer High School are the responsibility of the state,” Baraka wrote. “Students at Barringer High School have lost far too much instructional time and have been subjected to learning conditions that, in the 21st Century, no student should endure.”
Copies of the mayor’s letter were sent to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as well as other federal and state officials.
Baraka had earlier asked for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Newark–but there is no indication of a response.