Students Say Record Protest Crowd Shows Strong Resistance to Superintendent’s Reforms

By David Cruz, Correspondent

It was billed as the largest student protest in Newark Public Schools history. That’s a tough one to verify, but for many a seasoned observer today’s student walkout represented the strongest show of student solidarity in the state takeover era, more than 20 years now. They came from Weequahic and Shabazz, University and East Side highs — almost 2,000 in all — many defying a letter sent to parents warning that the protests were a “violation of our discipline code” and could result in “detention to suspension, as well as exclusion from celebratory end-of-year events.”

“Our school in general just basically told us that if we walk out we’re gonna get suspended, but we’re trying to save our school and we’re the future, so we all have to stick together when we come together for a good cause,” said one East Side High School student.

With scores of volunteers from the group New Jersey Communities United directing demonstrators and urging press to talk to official representatives only, the rally had the feel of a union-organized event.

One of the criticisms that has been levied against the movement is that it’s not so much student-led, as it is union-led, a mindset that doesn’t sit well with teacher’s union Vice President John Abeigon. “There’s no truth to that, whatsoever,” he said. “You know that’s an insult to this Newark Students Union. These are intelligent kids. These are a product of the Newark Public Schools. They’re aware of their American history. And they know that when you’ve tired of signing petitions, tired of representing down in Trenton and lobbying and legislating and nothing comes to pass and people continue to ignore you, well, your next step, rightfully, is to peacefully protest.”