UPDATE: NEWARK’S CAMI ANDERSON–Acting like a beseiged colonial-era dictator, is trying to block employee access to a petition opposing her policies, already signed by more than 500 men and women, and has threatened to arrest an organizer of last week’s massive walkout of high school students. The hermit-like agent of Chris Christie–she has refused to attend public meetings for 17 months–blocked access of all Newark Public Schools computers to MoveOn.Org. The site published a letter and petition from Central High School principal Sharnee Brown detailing how Anderson violated the law protecting special education students. At the same time, Anderson’s “Executive Director of Safety,” Eric Ingold, delivered a letter to Roberto Cabanas of NJ Communities United–an ally of the Newark Students Union–banning Cabanas from setting foot on school property, including the site of tonight’s school board meeting.
An extraordinarily brave Newark principal, backed by equally courageous staff members, has written a letter that provides compelling evidence of one of the worst, most damaging, flaws of the state-imposed enrollment operation at Newark’s public schools–the assignment of special education students to schools that cannot accommodate them. The letter, written by Central High School’s Sharnee Brown, is contained in a petition she posted on MoveOn.Org and is available at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/one-nj-principal-takes?source=c.em&r_by=13123433
In the stunning letter to her superiors and others, Brown explains why the so-called “One Newark” enrollment plan creates chaos by hurting students, violating the law, and demoralizing the staff.
The letter demands a return to neighborhood schools.
Earlier, I reported that my efforts to contact Sharnee Brown today were unsuccessful so I could not independently verify that she was the author of the petition–although the existence of the petition itself could not be denied. I have since received verification that Brown did, in fact, write the letter and took responsibility for the petition.
Her courage is nothing less than breathtaking. Brown faces the wrath of an NPS administration that treats dissent with vindictiveness–principals are regularly suspended and even fired for speaking out against the state administration.
The petition was posted Sunday, May 24. As of 1 pm. this afternoon (Monday), more than 100 men and women had signed the petition, many of them recognizable names in the school community.
Civic, civil rights, political and union leaders have long complained about the failure of Anderson’s administration to care properly for special education students. Researchers–like Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) and Rutgers professor Bruce Baker–have provided evidence that placement of special education students is manipulated to ensure that faored charter and other schools do not receive a share of needy students.
Some of these groups have asked repeatedly for federal and state investigations–but officials of the US Department of Education, headed by pro-Cami Anderson education secretary Arne Duncan–have dragged their feet and failed to bring investigations to a close.
Here is the text of the MoveOn.org petition, followed by Brown’s letter to Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run the Newark schools, and Brad Haggerty, the deputy superintendent in charge of Central High School:
One NJ Principal Takes a Bold Stand Against the Systematic Neglect of Special Education Students in Her Newark City Public School
Superintendent Cami Anderson
Newark Public Schools
2 Cedar Street
Newark, New Jersey 07108
Dear Cami Anderson & Brad Haggerty,
As this exhausting school year comes to a close and while I look at my information via Salesforce with complete dismay, I am disappointed that even this year, the district will not address a deep concern that I have had for the last three years about the overwhelming influx of students with special needs being matched to Central High School.
On June 2, 2014, I sent a three page letter to Dr. Katzman, Brad Haggerty, Dr. Honnick and the Superintendent Cami Anderson detailing my disagreement and resistance to the plan to send 70 students with disabilities out of 216 freshmen to Central High School. Of the 70 special needs students, 70% of them were improperly placed at Central High School, which is illegal due to IDEA and federal guidelines. The reality there are no programs at Central to accommodate their needs. When students are inappropriately placed this makes us immediately out of state compliance and not able to implement their IEPs. Central currently has two programs: in class support (RCI) and Autism. When I conveyed my concern and gave sound reasoning to my supervisors and to the director of OSE, I was met with resistance and even punished with a poor evaluative comments on Competency 5 of my evaluation due to speaking up and addressing this issue. However, I cannot and will not sit idly by and witness the neglect of Central High School without trying desperately to get the district to hear my concerns about how we are being affected by these decisions.
Two school years prior (2013-2014) , we at Central High School have never recovered from the One Newark enrollment phenomenon. It took a toil on our teacher morale and energy. In 2013-2014, Central High School was adversely affected by the open student enrollment process. We submitted our projected budgets in February 2013 and six months later we received more students than anticipated. We went from accepting a freshman class of about 175 in 2012-2013 to accepting a class of 255 in 2013 – 2014. Of the 255 students, we received an unprecedented amount of special needs students to service, 58. Also to compound the issue, of the 58 SPED students, many of the classifications of the students, we could not serve due to Central’s lack of the Special Needs programs and services that are required to have to address their academic and emotional needs. For example, we received approximately 12 Emotionally Disturbed students, and we do not have a Behavioral Disabilities program to meet their therapeutic, socio-emotional and academic needs. Also, 14 Learning Disabilities-Severe freshmen were sent, yet we do not have a program to service their needs. Lastly we also are also out of compliance in the Autism program due to the lack of educational aides an on-going struggle in the district. This caused overcrowding, a large amount of teachers teaching six classes, the use of some ineffective EWOP teachers with our most disenfranchised students. In addition other grade levels currently have substitute teachers due to a lack of staff, and SPED classes are out of compliance due to lack of resources and staff. All of these compounded issues, impacted the culture, morale, and learning environment causing frustration to the teachers, students and administration. We are still trying to ameliorate many of the unresolved issues aforementioned.
As previously stated, Central School High only has two Special Education programs; we have an in class support program and a program for our autistic students. The autism program had its challenges because it was started with little to no support or direction from the district. However, we have managed to endure to the chagrin of two parents who either sought out of district placement or have formed legal cases to ensure compliance. Being out of compliance is a serious matter! When the district makes decisions to send the students to Central inappropriately, I AM THE ONE WHOSE NAME APPEARS ON THE SUBPOENA, as well as the child study team.
At best, we have the capacity to service about 25 to 35 SLD students each grade level. Prior to the extreme school closings and prior to the open enrollment, accepting students from our feeder patterns allowed us to maintain a serviceable number of special education students. On the other hand, the open student enrollment process forces Central High School to triple that number, forces us to not service students because we do not have the programs, causes us to be out of compliance, adversely affecting school climate, and creating a major disservice to the students who will be improperly placed. It is the district’s responsibility to place special needs students in their correct learning environments, especially since local school do not have the authority or input regarding student enrollment. Compliance is not just important; it is the law.
This school year (2014-2015) was even more frustrating. Despite my concern and my many attempts to stop the influx of 70 SPED students at the beginning of the year, we continued to get students with disabilities everyday throughout the One Newark Enrollment process. In a normal year, we would receive only 25 to 35 freshmen SPED students, but our special needs population tripled! From 2012-2013 to 2013 to 2014, the freshmen SPED enrollment increased by 120%. From 2013-2014 to 2014-2015, the freshmen special needs enrollment increased by 21%. For the 2014-2015 to 2015-2016, the freshmen SPED enrollment will increase by an additional 15% with no increase in staff due to district mandated budget cuts at Central High School. Overall, within three school years, Central’s SPED FRESHMEN POPULATION INCREASED BY A WHOPPING 220%. I have only included the increases of the freshmen class! All classes have increase exponentially. We did not have the resources, the correct number of special needs teachers nor did we have programs to meet the students immediate educational needs. Not only did my concern go unheeded but the Enrollment Center continued to push more special needs students when we were already out of compliance. The district has ignored our concerns and left this CHS administration and our teachers to fend for ourselves. Where is the district, when we are unable to meet a kid’s need when in crisis? Where is the district when due to being out of compliance, a student does not thrive academically? Where is the advocacy of the district, when a student enters with extreme challenges, late in the year, and is sent to a place where no one is trained or certified to meet his or her needs? Where is the district, when teachers leave school exhausted and frustrated because too many students with extreme needs are placed in one environment? Where is the district when teachers decide, I can no longer teach in a district that ignore the concerns of the professionals and experts that they hire?
This year, the projected number of incoming SPED freshmen increased yet AGAIN. The projected number is going to be 80 students. We are about to have a school where 29% of the Freshmen students will be students with special needs that we can not accommodate properly. The district percentage of special needs is 15%, while Central High School is 29%. That makes it 93% over the district’s percentage. Ignoring my concerns and not address this phenomenon is a blatant attempt to create hardships in comprehensive schools in order for them to fail. Central High School’s SPED numbers prior to the One Newark Enrollment debacle were manageable. Prior to the closing of schools, there was much more efficiency. No one talks about the inefficiency and chaos that rapid school closings cause. For example, when students are sent from schools that close unexpectantly, the transferring of students hard files to the new school are affected. When the district closes schools, the next school does not receive the necessary information on the new student due to missing folders. The district has to be made aware of the chaos poor decisions cause.
Central had a very progressive and effective inclusion program, where our Special Education students were thriving. THE DISTRICT HAS TO STOP IGNORING THE DAMAGE IT IS CAUSING! THE DISTRICT IS NOT FIXING THE PROBLEM BY CLOSING SCHOOLS AND RUINING THE SCHOOL’S LEFT OPEN! THE DISTRICT CAN NOT KEEP CLOSING SCHOOLS AND MATCHING THE SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS TO COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOLS IN ORDER TO CAUSE HARDSHIPS AND ENVIRONMENTS WHERE STUDENTS FAIL.
At Central High School, we have maintained a quality inclusion program until the district started One Newark Enrollment. We have to fix this problem immediately.
We demand that you end this One Newark Open Enrollment Debacle.
We are demanding that you come to the table and really hear our concerns around what is being done in this district with our special needs students.
We are demanding that the incoming number of SPED students for the 2015-2016 school year decrease to 39 special needs students.
We are demanding that when setting and running the algorithm, a cap for SPED capacity be set to the number of SPED students a school can accommodate and to the program that the school offered, especially based on state required classification and maximum capacity. NO SCHOOL CAN BE ALL THINGS TO ALL STUDENTS.
We are demanding that the district stop looking at out-of-district placement as a cop-out but as a solution to meet a students needs.
We are demanding that the district decreases the enrollment of SPED student to the district’s percentage of 15%.
We are demanding that Central be allowed to grow and flourish as a viable educational environment that meets the needs of all their students.
We are demanding that we go back to prior feeder school patterns and stop closing neighborhood
Principal Sharnee Brown & The Frustrated Central High School Family