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It’s old news that Newark Superintendent Roger Leon and the city’s school board have known for almost a year about the anti-Black racism at the district’s High School for Global Studies: After all, parents and students have been begging for intervention since last May, a fact confirmed by internal emails. This past Monday Chalkbeat noted these emails “reveal shortcomings in how Newark handled this racial harassment and how that affected the emotional well-being of students.” Then on Wednesday Mayor Ras Baraka held a Town Hall called “Black and Brown Unity Matters” but, judging by today’s Star-Ledger. this attempt to quell dissatisfaction with district leadership seemed too little too late.
Several news outlets, including NJ Education Report, have access to these emails through an Open Public Records request. Chalkbeat does a nice job of summarizing the sentiments, which started in earnest last May when the daughter of School Board president Dawn Hayes, a Black and Muslim student at Global Studies, “was called a terrorist and the “n-word” in the hallway, according to interviews with students and teachers at the high school.” (She transferred out of the school because she “did not feel comfortable.”)
Here are some of the emails with student and parent names redacted:
Oct. 30, 2022: “Can you imagine walking into a classroom or school feeling ostracized or made to feel less than because of the color of your skin?”
Oct. 29, 2022: “My son was called a racial and derogatory remark … No one reached out to me or spoke with my son!”
Nov. 3, 2022: [Global Studies Principal Nelson] Ruiz “spoke with no sense of urgency! He even paused for a minute to check his cell phone!”
Nov. 3 2022: “Mr. Ruiz apologized to my son, as well as myself, nice words … but no action plan, no sense of concern or validation. I’m very disappointed as a Black mother, especially in these critical times that we live in.”
Dec. 3, 2022: “León visited the school to speak with students in the Black Student Union in an effort to ease tensions, according to a Dec. 3, 2022 email from a parent. But according to the email, the superintendent asked a student who had been called a racial slur in his English class if he would like a basketball team at the school. ‘How fitting, let’s ask the Black students who were called monkeys to do what Black students are always asked to do, play sports, perform,’ the parent whose name was redacted, wrote in the email, which was sent to León, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and district staff.”
Dec. 4, 2022: A Global Studies parents writes to Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, who is León’s biggest booster: ““My son has been traumatized and I’m worried for his well-being.” (Ruiz’s office said they forwarded the email to the district and the issue “was resolved.”)
Jan. 3, 2023: León met with Black Global Studies students and told them that “if they didn’t like the way the school was run, they could leave.”
Feb. 13, 2023: Black Student Union faculty advisor Tammy Davis, who had filed complaints about the harassment with the district’s human resource and affirmative action offices. resigns.
According to the Ledger’s report, Mayor Baraka’s Town Hall was intended to address the tension between Black and Latino students at Global Studies but had only middling success. One of the organizers, Equal Justice founder Zayid Muhammad, said “we’re talking about a problem that has not resulted in any serious violence. That’s what we want to prevent.”
Yet 16-year-old David Allen, former president of the School of Global Studies Black Student Union, had this to say while participating in one of the panels:
‘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.’
Allen was unsparing in his criticism of Global Studies Principal Nelson Ruiz and Newark Superintendent of Schools Roger León, who he said had allowed tensions to escalate by failing to address the situation early and strongly enough. ‘If it were up to me, I’d fire them,’ he said in response to a question from the audience.
Neither León nor Ruiz responded to a request for comment.