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“It’s very suspicious, very weird and unusual. For the Newark school system to step into this role seems to me very peculiar and very risky in many ways, including, it’s not clear what the guardrails are in terms of the collection and the use, and the protection of this data.”
That’s Leonie Haimson, a New York school advocate who is a fierce defender of traditional public school districts. She’s commenting on a scoop by Tapinto Newark that explores a little-known program created by Newark Superintendent Roger Leon called ” Conception to Cradle to Grade 3 Consortium,” part of the district’s 10-year strategic plan. It sends three social workers into Newark maternity wards to enroll unborn babies. “We’ve identified any female in Newark that’s carrying a baby right now and so we’ve already enrolled for 2026, because that’s when they will be 3-year-olds. They’re [registered for school] while they’re in the mommies’ wombs,” León said during a recent conference in Austin, Texas.
Reactions are, well, mixed.
The enrollment program “reaffirms the scientific fact that human life begins at conception and recognizes the vast potential inherent in every newly conceived human life,” said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey’s Right to Life chapter, a pro-life organization that fights for limits on abortions and abortion pills in the state.
“As someone who has been a longtime pre-k advocate for children who live in special-need districts and babies in the womb, I find this effort intriguing,” Tasy said. “We hope that these young moms are receiving the emotional, medical, and material support they need to ensure a healthy birth for them and their babies.”
Haimson: “Putting social workers that are on the staff of Newark Public Schools, which has a lot of challenges already and probably is underfunded, but hiring them and sending them into waiting rooms, I don’t know, it really does seem very suspicious.”
There are several other “suspicious” elements, although many of Tapinto’s requests for information were denied by the district. For instance, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network is listed on the district’s presentation as part of the Parents Advisory Council but director Peg Kinsell, when queried, said she’d never heard of the program.
“While Kinsell noted that she had heard of exclusive and pricy schools having waiting lists that accepted students before they were born, the idea of enrolling children in public school while they are ‘in the mommies’ wombs’ as León said, was unheard of.
Monique Dujue Wilson, who is a Project Coordinator/Parent Group Specialist for SPAN, said that this strategy was a bit of a ‘touchy subject today, especially around reproductive justice.’
‘Are you going to everybody or you just going to the healthy births to enroll, you know?’ Wilson wondered. She continued, ‘Are they putting a chip in these kids? I mean, what are they doing? How do they even know?’”
Many of those listed as part of the Steering Committee and the Parents Advisory Council didn’t respond to requests for comment. Example: the NJ Department of Health, listed as part of the Steering Committee, “was unable to direct TAPinto to anyone in the organization with any knowledge of the partnership.”
“It seems like parents need to be involved with this, public health experts need to be involved with this, and there needs to be really much more public discussion and input about whether Newark is really capable of doing such a project on its own without any real oversight,” said, Haimson “It gives me a bad feeling. It really does.”