Thursday, February 19, 2015

Newark Students Occupy District Offices

Social media is an amazing thing. I've been following events in Newark from the comfort of Pennsylvania. And it has been rather exraordinary.

Newark students have occupied Superintendent Cami Anderson's office. As reported by Bob Braun, who was there with the students during the first night (you could see him in the background on the video feed), the actual occupation was not too tricky. A board meeting was going on upstairs, and the office on the 8th floor was just open and unguarded.

The Newark students are not strangers to this brand of activism. They have previously occupied a board meeting and helped scare Anderson away from an appearance at AEI in New York.

That was Tuesday night. The district, as reported by Braun, was initially confrontational, then switched gears to expressing concern for the students and promised water and access to bathrooms.

By Wednesday, the district appeared to be playing a harder brand of ball. Police reportedly delivered this letter to parents of students in the office, telling them to get their kid the heck out of there.

That didn't happen. Students in the office were told there was pizza for them-- outside in a school bus waiting to take them to school. Much of the day involved tweets, phone calls, and other communications regarding food for the students that district officials insisted was not being held up but which clearly was not getting to the students. (The live streaming from inside the building made this kind of obfuscation hard for the district to pull off.)

Late in the evening, a group of clergy arrived at the building and told security that they were clergy and they were taking the food up to the students. They delivered the food, along with some words of support and encouragement, led some prayers for the students, the building, and the city, and then returned outside to a rally in front of the building where just about every civic leader in Newark was gathered, speaking to the press. The district claims it has been attempting to talk to the students and negotiate, but the students have not said a word that I've seen to indicate they've heard any such overtures. I'm pretty sure the threatening letters and the bus pizza gambit don't count as negotiations.

The students are demanding the resignation or removal of Anderson; at the very least, for her to talk to them. That hasn't happened and #WheresCami is one of the questions of the day. An employee at a restaurant allegedly snapped this photo of Anderson on Wednesday afternoon.

The students have been livestreaming both from inside the building and from events held outside, and the story is drawing media attention. It's an amazing level of bravery, commitment and commitment. Many people have been plenty upset about the state of education in Newark, which has not been allowed local control of their own school system in about twenty years. This small group of activist students have provided a real rallying point and it will be interesting to see how events unfold. Stay tuned.  The twitter hashtag to follow is #OccupyNPS.


  1. Thank you for posting letter and update.
    Will stay tuned. It would be interesting what her boss Chris Christy has to say about the situation. Anything other than embarrassments for her lack of response to the community by not attending board meetings for a year and this recent abandonment of her office and lack of respect for these children. She is obviously not qualities for this job. As a citizen of NJ I'm interested in seeing where every penny of the Zuckerberg money went.
    Christie can not claim he has no idea this is going on. Calls to his office in the AM are necessary so he can not say he did not know what his staff was doing. Withholding food and not meeting with the community. Not showing up for work when a media crisis is happening to address it. Shameful.

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  3. Children standing up and speaking out! Their activism should shame the "Reformers" who are destroying these kids education. Much respect to them!