Faculty members, staff, and others associated with Newark’s Wilson Avenue School were called to a meeting Friday and told it was “disloyal” for anyone to raise questions about safety at the Ironbound school, according to sources attending the meeting.
The meeting was called by principal Margarita Hernandez and Kathy Duke Jackson, an assistant superintendent, after the Facebook page for Bob Braun’s Ledger reported that a strong smell of oil or gas lingered at the school.
No one is denying the odor—indeed, the school was closed early a week before because of it. And the state-operated school district admitted there was a problem. And it’s not the first time in the last few years that the old school has had problems with chemical smells.
But, at the meeting Friday, school and district officials seemed more concerned about controlling information concerning the odors reported by those who work at the school than the odors themselves. Public image was more important than safety.
This site did receive information about the odors from school stakeholders under a promise of confidentiality because of the genuine fear of retribution from a school district that often punishes those who speak out in behalf of the children, parents, and students.
This site will always guarantee anonymity to anyone who provides it with information—that’s a personal and professional promise from me, Bob Braun, and I have the final say as to what gets reported in my blog and Facebook and Twitter outlets.
I will never, under any circumstances, reveal a confidential source.
I received this information from sources attending the meeting:
“A meeting was held Friday at Wilson Avenue. Attendees were required to sign in. The meeting was led by Hernandez and Assistant Superintendent Duke Jackson. The gist of the agenda was administrative disapproval of faculty postings on their personal pages and comments on (the Facebook page of Bob Braun’s Ledger). They contend that it is against district policy to make statements disloyal to the school and the administration. The principal has the best interests of health concerns of students and faculty at heart. The meeting was to serve as a warning.
“The union is perturbed about teachers not following the chain of command. Teachers are not supposed to directly contact authorities. The Fire Department, PSE&G and OSHA”—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration–“were contacted.
The health and safety of the children and the staff members always will be the greatest concern of this site—and, I know, of those who provide this site with information. The public relations concerns of the Chris Christie-appointed administration of the schools, the political leaders of the City of Newark, or of the leadership of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) is not, and never will be, the concern of this site.
As has been obvious since this site was opened in 2013 upon my retirement from The Star-Ledger, I have been supportive of teachers and of the NTU and its leadership. What makes the Wilson Avenue story especially sensitive to some is the personal connection between NTU President John Abeigon and the Wilson Avenue School principal, Margarita Hernandez: They are married.
Abeigon has assured me—and NTU members—that he will recuse himself, and has in the past, from dealing with any problem at Wilson Avenue School. That certainly is appropriate. In this case, however, he has personally posted assurances to teachers concerning the chemical odors. That was not appropriate.
The only loyalties that matter in reporting about schools are to the truth and to the welfare of the children. The public images of those who run the schools, the city, or the union are their problems.