NEWARK’S POISONED SCHOOLS: Parents and employees get more bad news about lead


UPDATE: Parents and staff members  throughout Newark received “robo-calls” Monday night about new contaminated sites.  More than 12 hours later, the NPS administration  admits it was all a “software” mistake. But, as reader Lori Silva Costa points out, because the call “correcting” the previous call was sent to ALL parents at ALL schools, the information was still mistaken for the 17,000 students actually affected. The district is obviously incompetently led by a fool and is running off the rails. Time for Christopher Cerf and his band of happy clueless to leave.


The lead contamination crisis in New Jersey’s largest school district took a bizarre twist last night when parents and staff members from schools throughout Newark received “robo-calls” telling them dangerous levels of lead were found in their children’s schools.

The automated calls went to parents and staff members who, less than two weeks ago, received reassuring letters from Christopher Cerf, the state-appointed school superintendent, telling them their schools were not among the 30 found with unacceptable levels of lead in their water outlets. The calls that went out Monday night, however, contradicted that–although Cerf texted a message  saying the list had not changed.

“First I am told my child is safe and now, tonight, I get a call I cannot respond to telling me there’s a problem in the water,” said one parent of a child at Science Park High School. “What am I supposed to believe?”

“Is this a mistake?” asked one teacher who is pregnant and was glad last week to learn her school was not among the 30 listed last week–but is now. “Now I don’t know. What will happen to my baby?”

What aggravated the anxieties of parents and staff–and many staff members are also parents of Newark school children–was the inability to confirm the accuracy of the calls. Some parents thought it was a mistake. Schools in Newark are on spring break and school-based officials are not at their posts.

Although school headquarters at 2 Cedar Street is open this week, the automated calls did not begin ringing until after 5 pm when the offices are closed.

This site attempted to reach Dreena Whitfield, the former Cory Booker aide who now works as Cerf’s spokeswoman, to find out whether–as some parents and employees have suggested to this site–the “robo-calls” were mistaken or misdirected. She did not respond to an email message.

Parents also were angered by information on the call that spoke of testing for children that would be conducted over the next three days, all within the district’s Easter break.

“It’s very difficult to get any information,” said one parent. “Cerf seems to have  deliberately tried to confuse parents.”

The lead contamination crisis has rattled Cerf, who was state education commissioner before becoming the state-appointed schools chief. He has issued contradictory information and appears to be contending that the crisis began long before either he or his appointee, former state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, took office in the city.

The controversy also has strained the relationship between Cerf and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Baraka at first praised Cerf’s handling of the crisis, then stepped away from that support when it became apparent the district hid contamination data dating back to 2012.

According to parents and employees who have contacted Bob Braun’s Ledger, these schools were affected by the latest round of test results: Ann Street, Brick Academy, Central High, Chancellor Avenue, East Side High, Elliott Street (former First Avenue), Franklin, Hawkins Street, Horton, Lafayette, Marion Thomas (charter), McKinley, Oliver Street, University, Wilson.




  1. But still, parents refuse to boycott NPS en masse and the teachers refuse to strike. Everyone complains about how bad things have become, but everyone still continues to participate and perpetuate this farce of a bureaucracy at NPS. Except when it’s Spring Break. Because as we know, district sanctioned leave is the only effective method of making a statement against systematic, dictatorial, state inflicted, good old fashioned oppression. Historically, look how well it worked in Selma and in South Africa. It sure was a good thing all of the people were taking Spring Break at the same time in each of those places otherwise protesting in the heat of the moment might have gotten in the way of most people’s attempts to live equitably.

  2. Thanks in large part to Senator Booker, Newark has a new urban legend and it goes a little like this:

    “Where did all those Zuck bucks go?”

    If there is one area within this educational hierarchy that has been generously funded, complete with high-paying day jobs and beaucoup administrative assistants for the teeming flown-in assistant directors, it’s the communications wing of Cerf and Company. Plus, they’re supposed to be IT friendly, if not downright savvy, both frontward and backwards.

    So what happens when there’s something of a crisis (Cerf says yes, there is, while Christie says no, it’s overblown) and it’s time for this vaunted public relations team to really shine? They choke on a robocall?

    Next thing you know, the charter community will be bending down to make a show of bailing out those stranded in the same NPS school system which they were invited – compelled, if you buy the line – to leave behind.

    Places, everyone! It’s time to make a tragedy of monumental proportions look like a clear win for the people. Cory, where are you buddy? Cory? Is Cory in the house? Aww, crap. When’s the last time anyone saw Cory?

    Looks like team Cerf is gonna have to go this one alone.

  3. Breaking news: Cami Anderson named Title IX Coordinator and Crew Team Coach at Southern private school previously attended by TFA Reformers’ child. April Fool’s!
    Bob, you may be on a well-earned spring break but we really miss you!!

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