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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.