Newark schools: When is an asbestos danger not a danger?

The door to Room 313 Monday
The door to Room 313 Monday

The inept state operation of Newark’s public schools has generated a class of young refugee children–the city’s internal refugees who, like the victims of war and other disasters, are often ignored and neglected and treated like second class citizens. Thousands of these children every day go to school far from their neighborhoods and they face dangers–like that of asbestos at Louis Spencer School where, once again, the administration of Cami Anderson proved itself woefully insensitive and incompetent.

The latest chapter in institutionalized child abuse began when central office sought to remove a rug from Room 313 in the Spencer School. But, of course, the third floor–including Room 313– of Spencer is not really Spencer at all,  but rather the Miller Street School.  The real Miller Street School, blocks away, is one of the neighborhood schools closed by Anderson, soon to become a prize for Anderson’s friends in the charter schools.

Children, of course, have to give way to the interest of the privately-operated charters. That is a rule in Newark.

Gwendolyn Booker, Alicia Williams and Linda Owens of the MIller Street PTA with Donna Jackson
Gwendolyn Booker, Alicia Williams and Linda Owens of the MIller Street PTA with Donna Jackson

“Our children are crammed into the third floor of Spencer–it’s a sin,” said Gwendolyn Booker, head of the Miller Street School Parent Teacher Association. “The place isn’t healthy–and there are a lot of kids with asthma in that school.”

Booker, other parents, and community activist Donna Jackson conducted a press conference this morning to plead for the safety of the children. Except for me, no press showed up because, in Newark, everything Cami Anderson does is often considered a “bold and sensible” move to reform education, even if it hurts children.

According to Jennifer Pellegrine, Spencer’s principal, a rug was removed from Room 313 and asbestos was found in the underflooring.  Parents were not informed but, while  work was going on, the door to Room 313 was left unlocked. The door, however, bore a sign that warned of the danger of asbestos.

That sign was still there  Monday but Pellegrine insists the “building is safe for all students, staff, and visitors.”

So why was the sign still up. Oh, just a mistake, said a facilities employee who turned up Tuesday to speak to worried parents.

From Linked-In a self-posted picture by Benjamin Olagayedo
From Linked-In a self-posted picture by Benjamin Olagayedo


“These things happen,” said the man. Booker said he would not give his full name, just his first name, Benjamin. Readers of this blog, however, will know he is Benjamin Olagayedo, an Anderson employee who also started his own environmental clean-up company.

But these kinds of “things” seem mostly to happen to victims of Anderson’s  “One Newark” plan–poor children of color, very often special education students, whose parents are pretty much overwhelmed by trying to live in a society where wealth is, well, maldistributed.

So why was the sign still there on Monday? And why hadn’t the parents of the children been told of the asbestos? And, why, on Tuesday, was half of the sign taken down–the part about the danger of asbestos.

The door to Room 313 on Tuesday
The door to Room 313 on Tuesday

Jackson said she hopes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will visit the school to determine whether it is, in fact, really safe. One hopes, of course, that other state agencies are not so indifferent to the health and safety of children  as is the state administration of Newark schools.

Jackson said the parents asked for the school’s updated health and safety report, a document all schools are supposed to keep on hand for inspection.

“The principal said she didn’t have it,” Jackson said.

Jennifer Pellgrine: Trust me, the building is safe.
Jennifer Pellgrine: Trust me, the building is safe.

We have run into this principal before. Back in the spring, when Anderson was threatening to lay off 700 to 1,000 teachers, Pelligrine bought her own help wanted add seeking school employees. She is a veteran of charter schools, the New York City schools–when Anderson–and such Anderson-favored NGOs as New Teachers and New Leaders.





  1. So, who did the asbestos removal? Was the company licensed? Did it pay their employees the prevailing wage?
    Was there an abatement plan filed? Where’s the plastic sheeting protecting building occupants from the asbestos dust?

    There are very specific state laws for this work. Everyone in the building is at risk if all the contractor did was slap a note on a door.

  2. One of the pesky advantages of a union is the ability of a teacher to request an OSHA visit. I hope that has been done.

    Bob Braun: I haven’t heard a peep from the NTU. I hope it’s been done, too.

    1. How about it NTU? Was an OSHA site visit requested? And if not, lets get on it.

  3. Bob,

    Newark Early College HS was housed for over 3 years at Spencer (until they were forced to go to West Side HS) and there was constant uproars concerning many things at Louis A Spencer the school and the entire building. Please interview the former principal who was once a coach at NPS; he has since left the district because of what they were supposely related to issues and concerns with Autistic children and children with special needs in the basement floor level. Speak to the past two principals at Newark Early College HS they have many stories on NPS administration abuse on all the children in which were housed at the school. Quitman Street school the so called renewed school (down the street) also is in a serious mess which Cami Anderson has created. As for the current Louis A Spencer principal Ms. Pellegrine; I can personally attest to everyone that she on one occasion denied being principal to another parent and I when questioned why a few 5 year old children where roaming such a huge school without adult supervision. Trust and believe that TFA Alumni seem to have self climbing agendas and could care less about African American and Latino children in the poor inner city of Newark. They come to get free education and their loans paid off. I agree with the above statement it is time for our Mayor and parents to begin playing their kind of POLITRICKS and get ACLU and pro-bono lawyers involved because this seems to only get worse for our children! I will now be informing all PTA if their children where in that floor that all of our kids were exposed and what is our legal recourse now.

    Thanks Bob, keep exposing the real time mess happening in Newark!!

    Bob Braun: Thanks for the note. Send me the names of the people you referenced. Send them to

    1. Will do; We will send you a few names of the administrators.

      Thanks for being the only true reporter with integrity left in Newark!

  4. As someone who has called them staff needs to step up and contact PEOSH. (Public employees office of safety and hazards) everything can be anonymous, only downside is state peosh offices are understaffed so visit may be put off a bit depending on issue. They come investigate submit report and do put nps on alert. All bldgs need to start filing complaints for issue (even lack of heat or excessive heat). If all bldgs have a PEOSH compliant imagine what they may find. Look around your bldg. Ceiling tiles, possible asbestos, heat , lack of heat whatever it may be. Facilities is not keeping up with bldgs. Let’s start making some noise.

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