Newark students skip school to protest 'One Newark' overhaul

By Naomi Nix | The Star-Ledger
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on September 09, 2014

About Newark 200 students skipped class today to gather at Military Park in protest of the school district's controversial reorganization plan.

 

NEWARK — About Newark 200 students skipped class today to gather at Military Park in protest of the school district's controversial school overhaul plan.

Organized by the Newark Students Union and NJ Communities United, the student activists reiterated their criticism of a reorganization plan they say unfairly favors charter schools over neighborhood schools.

"We have to to keep escalating," said Newark Student Union president Kristin Towkaniuk. "Cami Anderson doesn't want to talk to us. Chris Christie doesn't want to talk to us."

"It's about making them listen to us," she added.

Assistant Superintendent Brad Haggerty said in a statement that while the district supports student activism, students should attend school.

"We are supportive of our students expressing their views on important issues and remain committed to continuing discussions with those who have concerns," Haggerty said.

"However, every minute of instructional time counts and we must unite as a community in delivering this message to our youth."

Newark Public Schools announced in December One Newark, a reorganization plan that involves relocating some school communities to new locations, expanding charter schools and changing leadership at existing schools.

Since then, the Newark Students Union and NJ Communities United along with other community groups have been vocal critics of the plan.

In addition to halting the One Newark plan, the student union called for Superintendent Cami Anderson's resignation, for a town hall with Gov. Chris Christie in Newark and for a locally elected board to run the school system.

The state has operated the school district for more than 20 years.

Today's protest mostly included students from Central High School, Arts High School and Science Park High School.

Instead of going to school, the Newark youth attended workshops on the history of student activism in Newark, the legal rights of activists in public disobedience, and art and signmaking.

Julio Martinez, 14, said the experience was well worth skipping Algebra class at Arts High School. The freshman said he doesn't want his younger brother, who is in the 8th grade, to go to a high school that's too far away.

"We're trying to help people," he said. "I can make up the work tomorrow.

Aalliyah Goff, 14, echoed similar sentiments, saying her sister's school, Newark Early College, was moved to a west side campus.

"She has to go all the way to the west side," she said. "That's too far."

Gov. Chris Christie today addressed the continued opposition to One Newark during a stop in Camden on his back-to-school tour. He argued that invested parties should put aside politics and work together for a "common shared good."

"I don’t ever bemoan someone for going out and protesting if that’s what they want to do," he said.

"But what we’ve had in some other places, in Newark in particular, are people who are trying to undercut the success of the very schools they’re sending their children to, with boycotts and other things."

But students are planning a second a round of protesting on Wednesday in front of the districts's headquarters. Though the One Newark plan is well under way, the activists said they want to continue fighting for making changes in subsequent years.

"We know this year is really a wash," Towkaniuk said. "At this point we want to prevent this from happening again next year."

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