The head of a grass-roots organization that forced the federal government to intervene in the Newark schools has charged that supporters of the city’s public schools have been “stabbed in the back” by the very political leaders who promised widespread change once the former state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, was removed from office.
“In some ways, we were better off with Cami Anderson,” says Johnnie Lattner, the co-founder of PULSE (Parents Unified for Local School Education), referring to a much despised former schools superintendent fired a year ago. “At least we knew who the enemy was.”
Lattner spoke at the last meeting of the school advisory board and demanded to know why the elected school panel–once the voice of anti-state sentiment–was saying nothing about the apparent failure of the administration of state-appointed school superintendent Christopher Cerf to respond publicly to orders from the federal government to remediate civil rights violations caused by Cerf and his predecessor and appointee, Cami Anderson. The co-called “One Newark” and “Renew School” policies were specifically cited in the complaint.
The only response Lattner received was from board lawyer Charlotte Hitchcock who denied any contention that the school system was under orders from the federal government. Hitchcock relied on a technicality to contend the school district wasn’t under a remediation order from the federal government–in fact, the school system agreed to the remediation to prevent any further investigation by the feds.
“They’re lying,” said Lattner of members of the board and school administration. “They should have brought up the federal civil rights complaint and discussed what the schools are doing to correct the problems that were found.”
Sharon Smith, the other co-founder of PULSE, cited three excerpts from an agreement reached between the school administration and the federal government, in which the education department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) found that policies pursued by Anderson and Cerf violated the rights of Newark children. Smith cited these excerpts from the education department’s order:
“OCR conducted statistical analysis on these numbers utilizing a Chi Square Test of Significance, and determined that the number of African-American students and students with disabilities affected by the school closings in the district effective at the end of school year 2011-2012 was significantly disproportionate as compared to white and other students; however, the same result was not seen for Hispanic students.”
- “OCR’s preliminary review of data indicated that the Renew Schools’ standardized test results and “dashboard data” for school year 2012-2013 did not appear to reflect any significant improvement from that of the closed schools for school year 2011-2012. Thus, OCR’s preliminary review of data indicated that the NPS’s closing of schools and transitioning of students did not appear to afford the affected students any measurable, improved educational outcomes.”
- “On November 9, 2015, the NPS voluntarily agreed to implement the enclosed resolution agreement to resolve the allegations in the three cases without further investigation. OCR will monitor the implementation of the resolution agreement.”
The settlement agreement–which Hitchcock signed on behalf of Cerf–required the state administration of the Newark schools to take the following steps before the end of this month:
- Assess the academic impact on children who were forced to transfer as a consequence of closing or otherwise changing the operation of a public school.
- Determine whether children have been adversely affected by the transportation required by the enrollment practices, including their ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
- Determine whether schools—including charter and other privatized schools—actually were prepared to receive the children affected by the mass transfers; if any children were not properly served, any damage to their educational careers must be remediated.
- The district also must review the placement of special needs children and determine whether any were hurt by failing to provide proper facilities. Those adverse effects also must be remediated.
Lattner said the district had sent “thousands of pages” of material to lawyers from PULSE, an affiliate of a national organization seeking redress of civil rights violation in urban schools, but had refused to respond to the complaint publicly.
“Cerf and the board should be telling the community what–if anything–has been happening, but, instead, all the political leaders–including those on the school board–are saying nothing,” Lattner said.
He said he was especially disappointed by the statements and actions of Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, the recently restored president of the school board. Baskerville-Richardson told the board meeting she knew nothing of the civil rights complaint and the state’s response to it.
“She’s lying,” Lattner said. “Of course, she knows about the civil rights complaint and the response to it.”
Lattner said the once vigorous response of the community–including students, parents, school employees and board members–had “crumbled,” especially since Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie had reached a deal supposedly to return local control of the schools to Newark residents.
He said many city residents were outraged by the burdens imposed by “One Newark,” a city-wide enrollment plan that resulted in dispersing children throughout the sprawling district.
“We were devastated by ‘One Newark’–now the board and the mayor don’t even talk about it,” he said.
Although Baraka has promised to support an independent school board, he has hired many of the board members to municipal jobs and used his political clout to ensure the panel supports his initiatives–including his alliance with Cerf.
“Cerf and Baraka are working together to ensure their legacy,” said Lattner. “Their greed and ambition have brought the downfall of community support for public schools in Newark.”