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Superintendent Roger Leon says he has a plan to fix the racial animosity faced by Black students at the district’s Newark School for Global Studies.
Just one oddity to his plan: no one can see it. An Open Public Records request by NJ Ed Report and other news outlets to City Council has been met with denials, as well as OPRA requests to the district. This plan, created by CREED Strategies which is run by Lauren Wells, Mayor Ras Baraka’s former chief education officer, remains hush-hush.
How secret is this report? The school board hasn’t even seen it yet.
A little backstory: last fall news broke that parents had been emailing Leon and Global Studies principal Nelson Ruiz for over a year about the racism endured by their Black children by the school’s largely Hispanic enrollment. School board president Dawn Hayes’ daughter was “called a terrorist and the “n-word.” (Hayes withdrew her from the school.) Another student was told he was a “smart chimpanzee.” When Leon visited the school to try to calm the storm of accusations, he told Black students they should go somewhere else if they didn’t like it there (a parent reported).
Chalkbeat reported that these emails “reveal shortcomings in how Newark handled this racial harassment and how that affected the emotional well-being of students.” When Newark Mayor Ras Baraka held a Town Hall intended to address the tensions between Black and Latino students, 16-year-old David Allen, former president of Global Studies’ Black Student Union, said, “‘It’s slightly satirical, in a sense, that we’re sitting here talking about Black and brown unity because, truthfully, I’ve never seen or experienced it.” Oscar James called the Town Hall “a stunt to pacify us into silence.”
And at a February school board meeting (video here), parents and students assailed the board, Leon, and Ruiz for tolerating explicit racism and harassment.
Leon has a secret plan to fix all of this. But even at a (rare) press conference last week he refused to release details, beyond saying principal Ruiz would be helping other district leaders learn from his experiences. Leon also said the CREED report had “three principles” that had “been shared.”
Yet not a single board of education member, whose collective responsibility is to oversee Leon, has seen a word of the report. Board member Hayes told Chalkbeat that she expected to hear about the report at the June public meeting—-yet Leon disclosed nothing.
“It is a hot topic item that pretty much everybody on this dais is expecting to see some results from,” Haynes said. “To know that we put that in place as the board and we’re expecting some information based on it, a synopsis, the actual report, what are the beginning findings? It is imperative that that information gets to the board.”
No doubt Black parents and students at the High School for Global Studies would like that information too.
Side Note: This lack of transparency is a feature, not a bug, of Leon’s superintendency. See the piece below on Leon’s refusal to release litigation costs as he continues on his crusade to fatten his real estate portfolio. Also, Tapinto reports the Board approved “salary adjustments” to district administrators without revealing the amount of those raises to the public or responding to media inquiries. According to Tapinto’s math, some of those raises were as high as 16%. The Newark Teachers Union, which is approaching contract negotiations, is taking note of the double-digit salary increases.