Newark Superintendent Roger Leon is shocked to hear about racism against Black students at the Newark School of Global Studies: at last November’s School Board meeting, one media outlet reports, he “continued to raise concerns about the little information he knew about the situation.”
One problem with this reaction: Protestations aside, Leon has known about the racism since last spring but the rumor mill says he’s trying to protect the principal of the High School of Global Studies, Nelson Ruiz.
Last month NJ Ed Report filed an Open Public Records request for all emails about racism against Black students at the primarily Latino school that were sent to Leon, Assistant Superintendent Maria Ortiz, and Global Studies Vice Principal Hoda Abdelwahab.
There’s a bunch and they date back to last May, ten months ago. Here’s one, with student and parent names redacted, that was received before the November board meeting where Leon claimed he had “little information”:
“On October 29, 2022 I received a phone call from my son’s English teacher. She stated to me on October 14th, 2022 my son was called a derogatory racial slur, a ‘smart chimpanzee.’ I was horrified! She told me she filed an incident report and Principal Ruiz as well as the social worker was aware. On October 29th, I reached out to Principal Ruiz as well as Superintendent Leon via email. On November 3rd, I met with Principal Ruiz, the Dept. Chairs, Ms. Davis, Ms. Lumumba, and Mr. Lyndon Brown. The meeting was very unproductive. Principal Ruiz refused to address the problem with any tangible results. He appeared bored and displayed no sense of urgency. On November 3rd, I filed a formal HIB complaint with the HIB Coordinator, Rashon Dwight. The first communication between Stephanie Barrera, HIB specialist and myself was November 4th, 2022 via voicemail. She didn’t attend the meeting…My son has been traumatized and I’m worried about his well-being. He wants to transfer to a school where he can flourish and be accepted and not judged by his skin color. It is my understanding that there have been many other incidents involving students and staff. Superintendent Leon is aware and there have been absolutely no consequences for Principal Ruiz or the staff. I am requesting that you take a look at this matter. Please advise.”
In other words, Leon is well-versed in the abuse endured by Black students at Global Studies So why isn’t he taking disciplinary action against Ruiz?
This, after all, is a superintendent who has had no qualms about replacing high-ranking staff members. When first appointed by the Board in 2018, Chalkbeat ran the headline, “Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over.” In 2021 Leon announced that one-quarter of all Newark district schools would have new principals.
The answer may be in the rumors circulating throughout the city that Global Studies principal Nelson Ruiz is the cousin of Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz. The Senator is an ardent supporter of Leon’s; according to insiders, she was instrumental in getting the School Board to choose him* and continues to support him, despite the growing list of scandals that mark his tenure.
Today’s Star-Ledger has an article by Steve Strunsky who breaks the news that the Newark School Board has hired law firms at $285/hour to defend four board members against ethics complaints. While the complaints remain sealed, Strunsky believes two possibilities are the Board’s secret and illegal 10-year extension of Leon’s contract, which was greeted with outrage by the community, and the racism at Global Studies:
Strunsky adds that one Global Studies parent reached beyond district officials for help, “sending a Dec. 5 email to state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the Newark Democrat and state Senate majority leader.”
Senator Ruiz did not return a request for comment.
*Leon wasn’t on the original list of three candidates for district superintendent; the Board selection committee had already chosen Acting Superintendent Robert Gregory. But after blowback from up high, school board president Josephine Garcia sent a letter to then-Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet asking for permission to add a fourth candidate; the rules say there have to be only three. Repollet said “sure.” Board member Kim Gaddy told Chalkbeat, “the entire process has been tainted by the decision to change the rules of the search without the agreement of the full search committee.”