School opened in Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, September 4, in the messy, patched together way that major transformations occur. The question in this case, as Cami Anderson, the state’s appointed overseer superintendent imposed her controversial “One Newark” school choice plan on the school district, is why the confusion had to happen. The citizens of Newark overwhelmingly elected a new mayor in the spring, Ras Baraka, a public school educator who ran on a platform of improving the public schools in Newark’s neighborhoods. But Cami Anderson and Governor Chris Christie—who arrogantly said, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”—have persisted in their plans to close public schools and expand school choice.
As school began under “One Newark,” about 190 students were reported by WNYC News not to have been assigned a school yet and only 74 percent of students were reported to have found a place in one of their top five schools. According to Bob Braun, the blogger and retired reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger, students with disabilities were not provided transportation at all on the first day. There was considerable confusion as families tried to navigate a new shuttle bus service set up by the school district to support students who were assigned to schools far from home. Newark’s public schools have not provided transportation in the past.
Braun has been persistent and prophetic in pointing out the racial implications of the Christie/Anderson experiment on Newark’s children. I urge you to read all of his recent blog posts on the Newark schools, because he is forthright in naming how power politics and racial politics work in the biggest—and majority-African American—city of a wealthy state.
Here is Braun’s reflection on the meaning of a preliminary boycott organized by the Newark Student Union on the day before school started: “Newark’s political and organizational leaders will, I know, scoff at this but right now, the leaders of the struggle against ‘One Newark’ and the privatization of public education are the hundreds of high school students who early this morning marched from three high schools to Military Park and who, tomorrow, are expected to take even bolder action against the policies of Cami Anderson, her puppet master Chris Christie, and Christie’s privatization guru, Cory Booker. That doesn’t mean a few hundred high school students from Science Park, Arts, and Central will bring down Anderson, but what it does mean is this: For now, they are keeping the fight alive, they are serving as the conscience of the Newark community, and they are reminding everyone that real people—mothers and fathers and children—are hurt every day by the disruption caused by this mindless reorganization plan.”
On Thursday, September 4, the students’ school boycott and public demonstration blocked Broad Street in Newark for eight hours as schools opened under “One Newark.” According to Braun, the high school students requested a meeting with Cami Anderson but were denied. Braun reports that the mayor, Ras Baraka, posted his chief education policy adviser Lauren Wells all day at the protest. She told the students, “they had ‘energized’ the fight against Anderson and for local control. ‘We wanted to make sure you were safe,’ she said.” Braun adds: “Although the children led the way yesterday with their act of civil disobedience, this is not child’s play. They were protecting the jobs and rights and income of adults… Those who believe the students’ fight is not every unionized teacher’s fight are simply burying their heads in the sand.”