The call no parent should receive from school

Akil Stevens at University Hospital
Akil Stevens at University Hospital

It’s the call parents never want to get. Never should get. But, on October 22, Aquila Stevens received a call from the school nurse at John F. Kennedy School in Newark. Her son Akil had been in an accident. He was injured and would be taken to University Hospital. Akil is the younger brother of Marques-Aquil Lewis, a member of the elected Newark board of education.

When she found him in the emergency room, Akil’s mother was furious. She wanted to know how her 10-year-old son could have fallen down a flight of eleven stairs when an aide is supposed to be with him all the time. She wasn’t happy at the answer she received–Akil had been left alone in a school hallway. Maybe only for a moment–but that moment was long enough.

Akil’s older brother, Marques-Aquil Lewis, put the blame squarely on the central administration, saying Newark school aides have been targeted by Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent. Many have been laid off and replaced by inexperienced workers without the necessary training.

Lewis also accused Anderson of not caring about the children of the city schools.

“You would think she would have reached out to Akil’s mother,” said Lewis. “But she didn’t. She didn’t care about what happened to him. She didn’t talk to his mother to find out how he was.”

And Anderson knew about what happened to Akil, Lewis said. “I personally told her right after it happened,” he said. “She just didn’t care.”

Lewis said Anderson’s behavior contrasted with that of Glenda Johnson-Green, the school’s principal. He said the principal immediately dismissed the aide who had left Akil alone at the top of a stairway. He also said Johnson-Green personally visited the child and his mother.

“She has been very professional about this form the very moment it happened,” said Lewis.

This is how Aquila Stevens posted the news on her Facebook page: “Cn sum1 tell Mii how did mi son fall dwn 11 stairs @ Skool n his aid is alwayz wit him…”

The John F. Kennedy School enrolls students with autism and multiple disabilities. Like his schoolmates, Akil is a special needs student. He suffers from cerebral palsy and is strapped into his wheelchair. He is supposed to have an aide with him all the time he is in school.

When his wheelchair crashed down the stairs, Akil was  not thrown out of it. With the chair attached to him, the little boy hurtled down the stairs, bouncing against the steps, hitting his head, his face, his knees and his elbows.

“His nose and his top lip were swollen,” Stevens told me in a FB message. “His chest was bruised. His elbow had a know. Both knees swollen.”

Akil was hurting. And he was scared.

After hours in the hospital, he was allowed to go home.

His mother is torn about what she should believe about sending her son to school. She wants to be confident that he will be safe. “But I’m worried, too,” she wrote.

Like most public schools in Newark, John F. Kennedy has suffered from budget cuts under the state administration of Gov. Chris Christie and state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson. According to budget documents,  the total budget for the school was cut 2.5 percent this year.

However, a closer look shows that much of that cut was in the budget for the multiply handicapped children like Akil. The total budget cut for this group was 3.9 percent–including a reduction of 10 percent in salaries for instructional personnel other than teachers.

System-wide, the Christie/Anderson administration of the Newark schools faces a $60 million budget deficit. Despite these problems, Anderson was awarded a new contract this year.

Anderson’s administration also has been the target of a number of state and federal complaints filed on behalf of children with special needs. Her “One Newark” plan, while favoring privatized charter schools, concentrates on keeping special education students in under-resourced public schools.

Critics of her school reorganization plan warn it endangers children.  Parents have warned the chaos it has created since September could endanger the lives and safety of the city’s children.







  1. The aides situation is a travesty. It’s November and students still don’t have aides because of a new “procedure”. This procedure is causing the most vulnerable to be denied their IEP legally mandated services. There is no “procedure” for when aides take a day off so aides are switched around to try to cover the most vulnerable or “troublesome” when an aide is out. Special needs students generate special funding. Where is the money? Where was the aide?

  2. Again, no mention of this travesty by the Star Ledger. When will they finally state the obvious…..Cami Anderson is a disaster…

  3. Are students who use wheelchairs regularly assigned to upper floor of JFK School? What if there’s a fire?

    I don’t know if this school has an elevator–but it’s unsafe to use elevator when there’s a fire.

    Bob, your report may raise another big question regarding other students at JFK School.

    If Akil was on upper floor for a special event, their procedures failed him.

    We will be hoping for a swift recovery for Akil (but that fall must have been terrifying) and our thoughts are with Ms Stevens.

  4. The real question this story should be asking and trying to answer is where was Akil’s aide? The aide is supposed to be by his side at all times. I don’t see the connection between the aide’s failure to be by his side at all times and the 10 percent cut in “instructional personnel other than teachers.” We are lead to believe there is a connection by Bob’s clever writing, but no such connection is actually established in the story. Bob should have asked what happened to the aide? Was she not by his side because she was tending to other students? Will the aid be brought up on charges for abandoning a student she is supposed to be with all the time? This screed just seems to be looking for a way to pin this tragedy on Cami & Co. In the end, they may be at fault, but this story certainly doesn’t establish any link.

    Bob Braun: Perhaps you should add, as a matter of full disclosure, that you work, or worked, for Steve Adubato. I know you have a professional tender spot for Cami and others should, too. I will be writing more about this. Stay tuned.

    1. Bruno – are you the Bruno from the Bergen Record?

      Bob established a link between the cuts and the episode – he said that experienced aides had been laid off and replaced by inexperienced ones.

      What we didn’t get in the causal chain was whether the aide assigned to the neglected and injured child was one of them.

      Regardless, your comment seems contrived to undermine a much larger truth, regardless of the facts of this particular story.

      Why would you come here to do that?

      1. Yes Bill. Hi. Good to hear from you. It’s been a long time.
        I’m not trying to undermine a larger truth, but one anecdote doesn’t prove the truth. It’s just one tragic anecdote. By the way, this story never would have made it past the editors at The Bergen Record, or The Star-Ledger because of all the questions surrounding it. A good editor would have said: You need to do a little more digging.

        1. By the way, I’m a big fan of new media bloggers like Bob. I’ve read every post on here since the day he started this blog. I think he serves a vital role and I’m glad he’s contributing to the marketplace of ideas. But when I see a journalistic shortcoming, am I not allowed to point it out? Is this site only for sycophants of Bob?

    2. BT, Mr. Braun’s readers are intelligent enough to infer all the questions you listed . . . and specific answers weren’t available at the time.

      1. Bob has a great relationship with the NTU. If the union thought it would be in their best interest to have the aide talk to Bob, they would have facilitated that interview. This may just be a case of a negligent aide who needs to be removed from an educational environment, in which case, the union would go to the mat to keep her employed.

        Bob Braun: Bruno–just when I was about to concede a point or two to you, you wrote this and now I won’t. You make assumptions here you cannot support. Cami has replaced union aides with persons in different, non-union titles to try to break the union. You obviously have very little experience with the way unions DON’T go to the mat–spending scarce resources–for employees they think will lose their cases. I have run into many who complain loudly about the failure of their union to help them effectively–the EA as well as the AFT. And no one has the credentials to prove he is independent of unions–starting with “Teachers and Power” (1972) and continuing up to my refusal to take ads from them. Also see my piece, aptly named “Betrayal.” Akil’s accident was a fact. RIFs of aides are facts. They exist side by side. It would take the sort of investigation neither Cami nor Hespe wants to prove a causal relationship.

        1. Bob. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that you were beholden to the union, only that you have a good relationship with them in that they would trust you enough to give you a good story if they thought it would be in their best interest. The silence of the union on this is puzzling. Was this aide in the union or was she a non-union replacement. It doesn’t say one way or the other in the story. If she was in the union, what does the union have to say about his or her potential negligence? If she wasn’t in the union, I would expect the NTU to be the first to say, “This is what happens when you replace highly trained union employees with untrained aides.” That’s a vital part of the story that’s missing.

    3. Bob, I am merely pointing out that you have an anecdote about the failure of an aide to properly tend to her charge. This is a tragedy. If you have more reporting that shows that aide was assigned to more than one student, or that aide was unqualified to work with that student, that would be an even better story. If you had evidence to show that cuts in staffing at the school led to the aide being forced to leave the student by himself, that would be a prize-winning story and I’d be the first to congratulate you on a job well done. But so far, your reporting doesn’t support it. I don’t have a “tender spot” for Cami, but I do have one for good journalism.

      1. You are making solid points, Bruno.

  5. Bob, this is truly upsetting this is only one of many stories like this in many of the NPS charter schools. The laws that are being violated with special needs students at NPS and their awful systems have marginalizes special needs children in Newark! Forget IDEA and HIPPA laws its seems in NJ if you have power and money; you have the right to hurt our brown and black children because they are so called low income and from Newark! Where is the advocacy for Newark children!

  6. This is truly sad, and thank God, he was not killed. Before you wrote this update, I wondered if Cami or her office would reach out to the family. As I suspected, sounds like not a speck of empathy. Then again, their attorney may advise them to stay clear in lieu of a possible lawsuit.
    Truly, enough is enough, children have been physically hurt, to say the least.

    As for the previous post regarding no mention of the aide’s culpability, her role is obvious and was dealt with. The bigger picture addresses “fundamental” causes of why or how such a thing can occur. Poorly trained individuals, or individuals who lack forethought, or even take their job seriously, or who are overextended in their duties does not merely reflect individual level vulnerabilities, but is reflective of systemic vulnerabilities. These macro-level vulnerabilities include a pervasive callous sentiment toward people of Newark, those in greatest need, and plain old doing whats right. It includes a greater interest in money lining personal pockets and making face time in the media rather than improving facilities and allocating resources in an equitable manner, and hiring qualified individuals capable of doing their job.

    So, if this and other atrocities can’t be addressed locally, then maybe national embarrassment is the only thing that can deflate the egos of the “untouchables” at the helm.

    Bob Braun: If Newark were a predominantly white town, its educational would be a national embarrassment. But it’s not and even the local media won’t cover the schools. The most attention the city schools have received lately came from Oprah and Zuckerberg–and we’ve seen how well that all worked out.

    1. “As for the previous post regarding no mention of the aide’s culpability, her role is obvious and was dealt with. ”

      Wait a second, we can’t just gloss over this. What was the aide’s role and how was she dealt with?

  7. The children of Buono voters have fewer and fewer guardians in our society.
    So very sad.

    Bob Braun: Amen. What can’t be gentrified will be turned over to settlement camps.

  8. Oh my God, I am appalled by this. Why would an aide leave a kid at the top of the staircase? I understand funding cuts have contributed to loss of services and use of different services or outsourced services at low wages who could give a crap about the job they are doing. I cannot imagine the fear going through this child’s mind as he, strapped into his chair, hit the walls and steps till he reached the bottom. My heart breaks over this and other travesties Cami Anderson and her bully backers have caused to children. CHILDREN. Where is Al Sharpton? Where is Jesse? Where is the outrage? I’m just not seeing the pushback that one would expect.

    This family needs to get themselves a good lawyer.

    Bob Braun: I guess Newark doesn’t get the sort of media attention that is likely to bring Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jackson to town. Hell, the people in Newark can’t get the local revs to pay attention.

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