Teachers fight back, refuse order to keep children in Newark school reeking of gas

Dawn Haynes: Teachers refused orders from administrators
Dawn Haynes: Teachers refused orders from administrators

Teachers and parent leaders were in open revolt at Newark’s Harriet Tubman school today after  administrators of the state-operated school district ordered them to bring the children into a school that was filled with the smell of gas fumes.

The courageous teachers–all of whom could now face disciplinary action for insubordination–refused orders from Malcolm Outlaw, the school’s principal, and administrators from 2 Cedar Street, according to Dawn Haynes, the head of the school’s parent teacher organization.

“Administrators were treating teachers as if they were children, ordering them back into a school that was obviously not safe,” said Haynes, whose two children attend the school. “The teachers were trying to protect the children.”

Michael Dixon, a vice president of the Newark Teachers Union  (NTU), was called to the scene. He later posted a Facebook criticism of a security guard who ordered teachers back into the building.

Despite assurances from administrators that the school was safe and the children should be brought in, the state administration, headed by superintendent Cami Anderson, ordered all the children–some 400– transported by bus to Speedway School, blocks away.

“I wasn’t told where my children were until after noon,” said Haynes. Other parents said they received no notification of what happened until after 1 pm.

Haynes said teachers immediately smelled the gas odor when they began showing up this morning. They were ordered inside the building to sign in but allowed to go back outside. The administrators never denied they could smell fumes.

“We were told that workers were using gasoline generators at the school last night,” said Haynes. “But then the story changed.”

The story changed after PSEGCO trucks and the Fire Department arrived. According to Haynes, the administrators said the leak was actually coming from a building across the street from the school, not from inside Tubman.

(UPDATE: According to sources familiar with what happened, there may have been two sources of fumes. Although NPS employees will not speak for the record, it was learned that either school employees or contractors’ employees were in the building the night before working on an internal generator and its use caused fumes. At the same time, however, gas fumes emanated from abandoned houses across the street from the school.)

“The administrators said Public Service declared the building safe, but teachers and children were coughing,” Haynes said.

That is when teachers began taking their children out of the school, refusing direct orders from Outlaw and others to bring the students back in.

Outlaw, without mentioning orders to bring children into the building, said he building was evacuated more than once–he used the term “re-evacuated.”

He posted this statement on the school website:

“At approximately 6:20am this morning there was an odor of gas within the Harriet Tubman School building. Immediately the head custodian was notified, who in turn called the Newark Fire Department and PSE&G. All staff members who were already in the school building at the time were evacuated. As additional students and staff members arrived to the building for morning entry they were not allowed to enter the building.

“The Newark Fire Department, PSE&G and the Newark Public Schools’ Head of Facilities all arrived to the building within minutes of being notified. All parties conducted an investigative walkthrough and performed an air quality test which proved that there was no longer gas in the air, and that the building was all clear for students and staff to return. Students and staff were then allowed to enter the building.

“As a precaution, due to a lingering smell of gas outside of the school, the school was re-evacuated and all students and staff were bussed to Speedway Avenue School where they remained for the entirety of the instructional day. Please be assured that all measures were taken to ensure the safety of all students and staff members and to return the students to learning as quickly as possible. If you have any further concerns or questions, please feel free to contact the school at 973.733.6934.”



  1. Teachers were told to enter the building to scan in when they arrived even though it was filled with gas. Teachers were ONLY PREVENTED from entering when PSEG came prior to that some were in the building and others were told to enter to clock in. We were told to exit after checking in and wait outside.When students and staff were told to re enter there was, still a, VERY strong gas smell INSIDE the school and outside school As an asthmatic I was already suffering from a, headache and feared a possible attack if I entered again. I informed THE VP that. I COULDN’T RE, enter with that strong smell still inside. I was told to stop exacerbating the situation. I repeated I’m not entering due to being asthmatic and was told to enter and clock out. My heads still hurting and I feel weak. A poor decision was made today. Our lives and the lives of our students were put in jeopardy. It’s becoming increasingly sickening the total disregard and disrespect for the community . Very alarmed. This would NOT have happened this way in the suburbs.

    1. You’re a great teacher Ms. Norwood!

  2. I dropped my daughter off at 7 am but I was sitting in front of the school for approximately 5 minutes beforehand. If there was a problem in the building before I let my daughter go inside someone should have been outside to inform me of such problem. I never got a phone call or text from the school. If it wasn’t for district leader Towanda Dowdell calling me directly I wouldn’t have known anything. The only text I received was from the aftercare program informing me of the cancellation due to the leak at around 1:30, which by then I had already gotten my daughter.

    Bob Braun: That is outrageous. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Yes, of course, someone should have been there–the school website says action was taken before 7 am.

    1. I dropped my son off and was inforned by his teacher of the situation and I saw the PSE&G vehicles. Also, I received a call from the school informing me of the situation around 11ish and another call at 1pm. I called the Central office and they also told me the students would be transferred to Speedway and this was about 9am or 915am. I am thankful for Mr. Bobbitt and all involved.

  3. The lives of NPS teachers and students are often endangered. Last year at Oliver Street school, the administration did not inform anyone that a disgruntled parent had threatened to return and “shoot up the school”. When police arrived, we were all told a bogus story that they were there for routine safety inspections. An automated voice message went out to parents with the same lie. Several staff members were aware of the “cover up” and even informed NTU, however nothing came of it. Proper emergency procedures were not followed.

  4. when I arrived at the building at 7 am I was fully informed of what was taking place. I could not smell gas while outside it was only inside the school building. As I got closer to the front door it was clear the smell was inside and not outside. I did receive a call but it came in the afternoon. At 7 am PSE&G and NFD were not present and there were no administration present either. The noon call stated that paid after care was still open but at 2:45 I received a call that it would be closed and no one could be in the building after 3 pm.

  5. The principal Mr. Outlaw left out of the letter that He ORDERED teachers to take the children Back into the building after they informed him that they smelled gas. I saw it with own eyes. HE MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE for that decision and I would urge the PTO to demand an to investigation toTruly see how this was handled. The letter is full half truths.

  6. Honestly- nothing ever surprises me in this district anymore. I am assuming no response by Cami about how this was handled??

  7. Mr. Hamilton, Did you hear the pseg experts and the supervisor state the building was safe? I was outside and heard them say those words! Did you hear the ntu treasure mike Dixon, board member marquise or counilwomans Cheyenne’s aid mr. Muhammad utter any words of concern after touring the building?

    1. Mr. Outlaw said that the building was safe and the teachers simply said that they smelled gas. Should they have taken children into a SAFE building and classroom and that smells of gas? Would you allow yourself or Your children to sit in a classroom that smells like gas?

  8. The Mayor has a responsibility and I believe commensurate authority to protect the people of Newark, most especially the most vulnerable. He needs to use that authority now, quickly and creatively, to stop the abuses by the Superintendent – from the dangerous transportation plans to the horrendous circumstance today. If his actions get challenged in court, so be it – the dangers will go on court records. But be brave and creative and act. Do not allow the state’s authority to diminish the authority, responsibility and duty as mayor.

  9. I was there with my child. I witnessed Malcolm Outlaw yelling and humiliating his staff, ordering them to reenter the building although they said it wasn’t safe. Children and parents all witnessed his unprofessionalism. This is a man who I should trust and a make decisions that effect my children??? He must be held accountable!!! Why should anyone enter a building smelling like gas. Thank goodness, the teachers took a stand for our children AND themselves. He need to GO!

  10. First of all I worked with Mr. Outlaw for many years as a teacher and the remarks being made here are in accurate. I am sure he was doing what he was told to do. With all the bullsh….. going on in newark with the superintendent treating teachers, aides, clerks, well everybody like crap you need to take that anger out and shove it in Cami Andersons face not Mr. Outlaw. He is an awesome administrator but unfortunately his hands are tied just like the rest of us. Smh

  11. In the words of Christie appointee: ” these are the children of Buono voters”.

    No outrage. No problem. Move along, move along..,

  12. When I returned at 3pm to verify that school would be open the next day, everyone was acting as if nothing was wrong. Based on the stories I’ve read thus far, and the fact that I didn’t know anything without outside help and know Ms Norwood and Mr. Hamilton wouldnt lie, its a sure bet it was handled wrong.

  13. I actually think it would be fine with Cami if a school exploded with students and teachers in it, it would be a must faster route to proving our schools are failures and must be taken over by private charter companies.

  14. Is there any video of this situation? As we saw with the Mike Rice and Ray Rice situations, people’s opinions can change if they see what happened as opposed to just reading about it. Not saying I don’t appreciate the reporting, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth about ten million.

  15. This surprises people??? Cami used all the money given to fix the public schools in 2011 to fix up the charter schools. She doesn’t care about the public schools or its children.


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