Newark: Students protest Barringer chaos

Students demonstrate outside Barringer
Students demonstrate outside Barringer

The state-run administration of the Newark public schools doesn’t know how to keep principals at Barringer High School. It doesn’t know how to provide the students with schedules, courses, teachers, desks, or even edible lunches. On a day, like yesterday, when  temperatures fell below freezing, it didn’t even know how to supply heat. But it sure developed some creative ways to prevent students from joining a planned walkout to protest conditions in Newark’s oldest high school.

“You’re keeping them from coming outside,” shouted Jose Leonardo, the vice president of the Newark Student Union (NSU), in a confrontation with Twanda Jones, a Newark special police officer who was, well, helping to keep Barringer students from joining a student rally outside the school. “No, they are free to go,” insisted Jones. “If they want to go, it’s on them, but they can go.”

Speical officer Twanda Jones tries to persuade NSU president Kristin Towkaniuk to leave parking lot
Speical officer Twanda Jones tries to tell NSU president Kristin Towkaniuk to leave parking lot

What Jones wasn’t saying was that, for Barringer students to join the protest against problems both at the school and through the Newark public school system, they would have to overcome some pretty sizable obstacles.

 

“Someone physically grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go,” said Matthew Rodriguez, a 15-year-old sophomore. “They were telling me not to go outside.” He identified the school worker as an interventionist.

 

That wasn’t all. Barringer administrators conducted a school-wide presentation in the auditorium during which the students were told not to go outside. Teachers warned them not to go outside. Security officers stood by  the doors and ordered them to stay inside.

One especially clever trick was telling the students they would not be able to return and retrieve their cell phones if they left. Barringer students are required to check their cell phones before entering class. “A lot of students need their cell phones for their safety,” explained Axel Maldonado, a 16-year-old junior.

Amanda Dominquez, the leader of the Barringer Students Union, said she was called into the school’s central office and told to call off the planned demonstration. She said the principal of Barringer STEAM, Angela Mincy, and Brad Haggerty, an assistant school superintendent.

 

“They told me they were correcting the problems at Barringer and we should not join the protest,” said Amanda. Let’s face it. It took a lot of will power for young Amanda to resist the powerful people from the Newark public schools. A lot of will power and courage. And frustration with the conditions that none of the high-paid adults seem to be able to solve.

The students received major support from NJ Communities United, whose organizers were on hand to remind students of their rights. For nearly a year, the organization has been in the forefront of helping students expose the problems caused  by state control of Newark schools.

No one denies Barringer is a mess and has been a mess since it opened for the new school year.  The students lost weeks of  instructional time because teachers were not hired and schedules were not set.

Just before the school year opened, Cami Anderson,  the former Cory Booker campaign worker appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run the Newark schools, fired one of two principals in the school. The other quit. Because Anderson has invested so much power in the principals who support her–and she keeps in their jobs–the loss of two principals meant staff assignments were not yet firmed up before the school year began. Course schedules were not completed. The school opened to chaos. And it has remained in chaos ever since.

 

Anderson herself admitted as much before a state school board meeting earlier this month. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka visited the school to hear complaints from the students, some of whom produced a video to show how bad conditions were at the school.

But the problems at Barringer have not been corrected. Help promised by acting state Education Commissioner  David Hespe and his phantom, “working group” never materialized.

The only Newark residents supporting the Barringer students and their parents are those running the NSU and other community groups. Some of the community leaders who were there supporting the Barringer students–Sharon Smith of People United for Local School Education (PULSE), Wilhelmina Holder of the Senior High School Council, and Donna Jackson. Dr. Lauren Wells, the chief school officer for the city and an adviser to Baraka, was there as an observer.

Many of the students and adults traveled to Washington last week to confront Cami Anderson who had left town to give a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, DC. When the students and community residents showed up, Anderson fled to a different part of the building to tape her comments and audience members were told the program had been canceled.

“I’ve been coming here almost every day since September and they still haven’t solved all the problems here,” said Holder.

The demonstration began just before noon with about 30 NSU members marching in front of school entrances calling for students to come out. Security officers and, later Newark police, moved them away from the entrances and from the school parking lot.

Despite the efforts of the school administration, about 50 students left Barringer and joined the young men and women outside. The group moved to the intersection of Park Avenue and Parker Street and closed it down for more than an hour.  Newark police officers diverted traffic and did not try to stop them.

8 comments

  1. booklady

    The NSU & BSU teens are amazing. 1. Have they invited President Obama to visit Barringer?

    2. Or Invited Michele Obama to visit for school lunch in between classes with uncertified teachers and 35+ teens in a class?

    3. They could do a Domestic Exchange Program with Sidwell Friends School. (High school domestic exchange programs were popular in the 60s.)

  2. Kevin Johnson

    Still no major media coverage huh? I wonder if this was happening in Livingston how many news vans and helicopters would be at the scene?

    • booklady

      Color Lines online magazine this summer had notice of upcoming NPS boycott, but I haven’t seen articles since. Left voice messages on their editorial #s.

  3. Newark Raised

    They suspended the children who walked out yesterday that did not have written authorization from Parents to walk out …. forcing Parents to come into the school to have their children reinstated…. How about parents come together and suspend Cami Anderson for doing a poor job at educating our children !

    • Stressed

      Very few kids were suspended as many took the opportunity to run from the building and go where ever, but definitely not to the protest site. Since those kids didn’t show-up for their classes for the remainder of the day, they were dealt with as having cut classes.

      In the end, according to security, about 50 kids total left the building from both academies and about 20 from both schools joined the 20 or so who organized the protest. Regarding kids leaving the building, this is a daily challenge. Barringer is shaped like big E with exit doors everywhere. You can’t have security in every stairwell and at every door; you can’t lock doors from the inside. This is not a problem specific to Barringer, just more challenging due to the design of the building. I’d like to add that there is also the problem in ALL schools (even the magnets) of kids letting intruders IN! As a teacher, I worry more about that.

      I am not a Cami supporter and the kids should be able to protest however when I saw the suspension list yesterday, there weren’t 50 kids on the list. I suspect the kids may have been caught leaving without permission or they were suspended for other offenses. When something like a Walk-out occurs, there is an air of excitement and the daily routine is upset. There’s a buzz in the building. Honestly, when I was in high school a million years ago in my cushy suburban school, we would have done the same thing.

  4. NSU Supporter

    Thank you NSU students for sticking up for your fellow students. I’m so proud of you and pray that you do not get discouraged. You are ALL leaders and I admire you so much. The battle lines have been drawn in the sand, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t win, especially when you are in the right.

  5. Mr. Outside

    To NSU leadership,

    The reason why your efforts may only appear to be marginally effective is because your protests; your demonstrations are just that. Demonstrations. Just like diagrams in a textbook, or illustrations; comic strips in a newspaper. I don’t say this to be mean, I am saying this to drive a point. You are competing against politicians who pervert the law to achieve their means. They do so by presenting a narrative as evidence.

    You must understand the significance of this.

    A narrative is a story. Complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. For politicians, using the law, the parallels in court mean an opening argument, examination (including cross-examination), closing arguments, and then a decision. But unlike a court room with a judge and jury, the politicians use the court of public opinion in which to make their case. And they don’t demonstrate. They make their case; beginning, muddle, and end. You need to be able to do the same. You need to be able to coordinate with your colleagues around the city to do so, also.

    Here’s how you start. You need to do your discovery: that means you have to gather evidence: pics, videos, public records, etc. You have to speak to students, and gather testimony if their experiences across the district. Next, you need to collect supporting artifacts to validate that testimony. So for example, if there are reports of overcrowding in classrooms, then you need to collect written testimonies, and consistent visual proof. If there are inexperienced or uncertified teachers, then that must also be documented. So for example, you might request teacher license numbers and dates of issuance from The NJ Department of Education.

    For each point that you are trying to argue, you must present as undeniable fact. Once you’ve accumulated all of your discovery, you then have to present your proof as a narrative, as a very compelling story to the court of public opinion.

    It’s great that you are all as enthusiastic and energetic as you are. You should maintain that fervor. But to really influence the move to fix the issues in your schools and remove Cami from office, you have to really tell the story of what is wrong in Newark’s Public Schools instead of just demonstrating about it.

  6. First Hand

    Thank you students for having the courage to stand up for what is happening in NPS and to you in particular. This fight is real. The end result is important, your education and future livelihood.

    People of Newark and New Jersey. What is happening in Newark will impact each of us that live in New Jersey in the not so near future. The young people in Newark are the future leaders, doctors, lawyers, teachers, workers, etc.

    When will people realize we ALL have a STAKE in what is happening to the students of Newark and the public education system?

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