(Not) back to school: Parents announce boycott of Newark schools

August 29, 2014

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NEWARK, N.J. – Angered with school closures and frustrated with the state’s control of education, a group of Newark, NJ parents announced today plans to boycott the city’s schools.

one newarkThe school year starts next week, but parents are already dealing with problems with the district’s “One Newark” enrollment system.

The system is supposed to give parents more education options for their children by combining traditional and charter enrollment, but it is part of a plan that includes school closures.

According to the Associated Press, offices were understaffed, preventing families from enrolling.

“The NPS Boycott 4 Freedom is an act of resistance and a statement against the One Newark Plan — Gov. Christie and Superintendent Cami Anderson’s destructive and shortsighted plan,” Newark parent Deborah Cornavaca said in a statement. “We have decided to escalate our actions to a boycott because we cannot continue to let the state and the superintendent disregard our lived experience and endanger the lives of our children.”

State control

The state government took over the education system in Newark nearly 20 years ago to address its problems. But in that time, parents say the problems have persisted. They want these problems solved:

In May, Newark parents, together with groups from Chicago and New Orleans and the Advancement Project, filed federal complaints with the Department of Education, charging that school reform and closure plans disproportionately affected African-American and Latino children in those cities. Last month, the Department of Education confirmed that it opened an investigation into Newark’s One Newark plan off of the complaints it received.

According to the federal complaint civil rights groups filed, African-American students comprised 53 percent of the district enrollment but nearly three quarters of those impacted by school closures in the 2011-2012 school year. One Newark will have similarly racially disparate impacts on Newark students, parents warn.

Opponents of One Newark don’t mince words in describing their opposition.

“We’re in a new era of separate and unequal,” says Jadine Johnson, a staff attorney at the Advancement Project. “Inequity and discrimination still occurs in many schools across the country.”

The One Newark Plan is supposed to include 13 new school closures.

“Closing the doors of public schools is not the way to improve public schools,” Sharon Smith, founder of Parents United for Local School Education said, as quoted by the Star-Ledger.

Political responses

Political leaders in Newark have come out against the state’s One Newark Plan, according to the Star-Ledger:

“Chaotic that’s what it is,” Newark Public School advisory board member Marques- Aquil Lewis said as he surveyed the auditorium where parents were waiting. “It should have been better planned.”

Lewis continued to say the fact that parents wanted to transfer their kids out of the school they were assigned to reflects a flaw in the One Newark plan.

“That just shows you its not truly choice,” he said. It’s “the district’s choice not parent choice.”

Mayor Ras Baraka also criticized One Newark, calling the problems “outrageous.”

For his part, Gov. Chris Christie has largely stayed away from this issue. But earlier this summer, a 17-year-old Newark student leader asked the Governor if he would hold a town hall in Newark to discuss education. He dismissed her question.

“The answer is, I’ll do my town halls where me and my staff think are the best places for me to do the town halls. If one of them turns up in Newark, I hope you show up and you get to ask a question that’s better than the one you just asked.”

Those on the left are seizing this issue as a way to try and discredit school choice. The problem in Newark, however, is much more complicated than that.

In fact, many of the problems being attributed to One Newark, like racial disparities, can actually be remedied through charter school vouchers and other school choice programs.

Authored by Josh Kaib

Published with permission

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