Latest From Newark: Special Education Violations, Plus Charges of Harassment, Racism, and Duplicity

The troubles within Newark Public Schools District continue unabated. Here is the latest:

  • A week ago Superintendent Roger León’s office released the State Department of Education’s new corrective action plan for the district. The plan is a consequence of Newark leaders’ failure to meet six requirements itemized in special education law. A few of these violations are administrative–“The district formally appointed some, but not all, individuals charged to the federal programs, by board resolution”–but some bear on the day-to-day experiences of special needs students, the mandated involvement of their parents, and the services provided. For example,

The district child study team members (CST) did not consistently participate in the transition planning conference for students transitioning from Early Intervention.

Translation: When young children with disabilities turn three and their programmatic responsibilities transfer from county Early Intervention services to school districts, Newark staff members who oversee their progress, placement, and services aren’t bothering to show up at transition meetings to learn what these children need.

The district did not consistently provide parents of students referred and/or eligible for special education and related services and students referred and/or eligible for speech-language services notice of a meeting for identification, eligibility, reevaluation planning, and determination of continued eligibility following reevaluation.

Translation: Newark isn’t letting parents know when there is a meeting about their child, even meetings where students could lose services. This is illegal.

Initial evaluation reports did not contain observations in non-testing setting.

Translation: When evaluating students to decide if they are eligible for special education services, Newark evaluators aren’t observing them in real-life, just within the artificial confines of a room where they’re taking a test. Special education law requires observations in classroom and social settings when performing an initial evaluation to properlly gauge student needs.

Newark has until this November to take corrective action.

  • Today Chalkbeat reports that new Science Park principal Darleen Gearhart is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a first-grade teacher Marcia Harris. The suit stems from 2019 when Gearhart was principal of Sussex Avenue School; Harris alleges Gearhart, along with administrator Christopher Constantino, harrassed and retaliated against her.

From Chalkbeat:

Gearhart, who was appointed as Science Park principal over the summer, is accused in the lawsuit of making ‘numerous racist comments’ in front of Harris, other Sussex Avenue School employees, and students at the elementary school. The lawsuit also alleges Gearhart referred to the song ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ a song often called the Black national anthem, as ‘disrespectful’ on at least one occasion.

Gearhart was appointed last year after the district reassigned Kcyied Zahir, who had been at Science Park only one year. He was the third Black male principal in Newark to be pushed out of a principal position this year. “You need more than one year to really get your feet on the ground and do what needs to be done,” said Christine Taylor, a former Newark principal and president of the City Association of Supervisors & Administrators union. “I think it’s patently unfair.”

  • The construction of the new Newark High School of Architecture & Interior Design came to a halt this week–temporary or permanent is unclear–after the private developer cancelled the contract. Today the Star-Ledger Editorial Board published a piece slamming Superintendent León and the school board for failing to be transparent with the community. The writers also asked Murphy’s Department of Education “multiple times if the Commissioner approved this lease, as is required, and got no answer.” Here’s a sample of the editorial:

The superintendent and school board need to come clean. Superintendent Roger León spoke out publicly and called for a meeting when he learned that the developer on this project stands accused of violating the law by failing to pay laborers the area’s prevailing wage.

Yet when it comes to the basic terms of this deal, he and the school board are hunkering down and keeping mum. It may be that they don’t understand the terms themselves – perhaps they just trusted their broker. So bring the broker to a public meeting to justify this.

“They should be open about this. They should say, this is why we did it, this is the rationale,” said Mary Filardo from the nonprofit 21st Century School Fund, who has more than 20 years of experience on public-private partnerships to build schools.


Laura Waters

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