New play tackles residency fraud in Newark, nearby school districts

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 13, 2014

The cast of 'Lines in the Dust,' which opens at Luna Stage Friday

 

WEST ORANGE — Life may imitate art, but according to one local playwright, when the subject is education in New Jersey, it’s the other way around.

Lines in the Dust, a new play about residency fraud issues in N.J. schools, premiered in previews at the Luna Stage in West Orange this weekend. The show is the second in a series of Luna-commissioned works highlighting historically significant events or issues in the history of the Garden State.

“Theater should always be entertaining, but it also has to be relevant, it should provoke discussion,” Cheryl Katz, the theater’s artistic director, said. That’s why she said she commissioned Bloomfield playwright and actress Nikkole Salter to write an original play about education in New Jersey, partly in honor of the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education anti-school segregation Supreme court case.

“We don’t have state-sanctioned segregation anymore, but we have segregated ourselves,” Salter said. “Why is that? Public school should be the same no matter where you go, but it’s just not. School residency fraud is one of the things people are doing to deal with this.”

Lines in the Dust tells the story of a Newark woman who lies about where she lives so that her daughter can attend Millburn schools, and her friendship with a Millburn school administrator who previously sent her son to Newark schools.

“It’s about the impacts that schools and school districts have on education,” Salter said.

Representatives from the Newark and Millburn school districts did not return requests for comment on the play, but Luna Stage organizers said the superintendents and board members from both districts were invited to see the show.

Millburn schools have been publicly addressing a debate over non-resident students in the district at board of education meetings, and Superintendent James Crisfield sent a note home to parents last school year about pleas made at public board meetings concerning residency fraud.

“I am angry that adults would take this issue to the public forum at the expense of our students,” he said in the letter. “To bring concerns to us privately is reasonable and welcome…We do take this issue very seriously.”

But, Crisfield said, “we are not going to turn this into some sort of public witch hunt.”

Salter said she researched both districts and school residency fraud statewide, and drew on her own experiences as a theater teacher at programs in East Orange, Newark, and Plainfield to put together the story.

“I am hoping that this…brings people to a place of awareness of the systems at play in the places where they live,” Salter said.

Katz said the play, which features Maplewood actor Rick Delaney, speaks to the aims of the theater.

“This [topic] is right out of the newspapers…theater brings about empathy, and that’s often the first step toward change.”

Lines in the Dust opens Friday and continues with weekend performances through Nov. 9. Tickets are $35.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment