The ongoing saga of Newark school reforms got a new twist last night, when nearly a dozen students blocked a meeting of the state-run district’s advisory board – and then wouldn’t leave.
The high school students – members of the increasingly vocal Newark Students Union – were holed up in the district’s downtown offices as of 10 o’clock last night, saying they would stay until their demands were met by state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.
“We will not move until we see justice,” the students chanted before sitting down in front of the board’s dais, prompting the board to adjourn after only a few minutes.
How soon that will happen is very uncertain, given that one of their demands is Anderson’s own resignation. But it certainly gave a new and youthful flavor to ongoing local protests and debates over the superintendent’s reform plans for the district.
A district spokeswoman said there were no plans by the district to remove the students.
The latest confrontation came out of what was a tepid street protest against Anderson’s “One Newark” reorganization of the district, which includes plans to close or consolidate schools, layoffs and reductions of about 300 staff positions, and a new universal enrollment system.
Only about 60 people showed up for the Broad Street protest, which had been touted as a mass rally, but about 20 students taking part in that rally then went up to the local advisory board’s business meeting in the Cedar Street offices to continue their protest. Up to now, the student group has been vocal in protests, including a couple of walkouts from classes, but it had yet to take over a public meeting.
The students immediately started shouting down the board as it started the meeting, with Anderson in attendance, and then wouldn’t stop. After a few minutes, the board’s new chairman, Rashon Hasan, called for the meeting to be adjourned.
Hasan spoke to the waiting press downstairs afterward, and said it was a matter of decorum for the board, as well as a question of when and where the students’ demands would best be addressed.
“As the president of the board, I want to assure the students and residents of the city that I am committed to having a meeting with the students, as they requested, so that they can deliver their message,” Hasan said.
“I will also say that as president of the board, my focus is that the board be able to conduct its business, and tonight we weren’t able to do so,” he said.
The decision to adjourn the meeting was a notable contrast to the previous leadership of the board under former president Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, who had allowed such public protests to continue unabated.
The president of the Newark Students Union, Kristin Towkanuik, said at about 8 p.m. that district security had made no moves to remove them, although they had threatened to withhold food. A pizza delivery, said the Science Park High School junior, was being blocked in the lobby.