In the past two weeks, educational institutions in the great state of New Jersey have come under fire for morally egregious and highly deceptive conduct. Earlier this week, Red Liberty Media, reported that a charter school in Teaneck, NJ, is requiring its students to attend and participate in a pride-themed celebration week.
Perhaps even more heinous, last week, Newark Public Schools experienced a series of terroristic bomb threats. Fortunately, each threat was ultimately deemed incredible, and students were able to return to their studies; however, according to some parents, the school district failed to communicate to them that the school had received such threats.
Newark Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara issued a statement last Thursday stating that police responded to calls on Tuesday morning about explosive devices at two Newark School District schools, Technology High School and Park Elementary School. After searching the premises, police found no explosive devices. According to O'Hara, police are continuing to investigate these matters.
Marcia McLean, a mother of four children who attend two of the 66 schools that comprise the Newark School District, was horrified by the school district's response to the bomb threats. According to McLean, the school district failed to communicate to parents any of the threats until after the threats were deemed incredible.
McLean said that on Tuesday May 24, she received "an alert" on her cell phone about a bomb threat at both of the schools her children attend. Upon learning of the bomb threat, McLean rushed to one of the schools and anxiously stood outside. "As I stood in front of my child’s school with no way to help or to get my children out of harms way," McLean said, "I was overcome with a sense of grief for our children and the staff of our schools."
According to McLean, the school district never informed her or any other parents about the threat; instead, she was forced to learn about the threat from a community mobile application that is unaffiliated with the school district. Worse still, other parents learned of the threat from their distressed children who were placed on lockdown.
I believe it is time for us to be proactive and stop being reactive to the very real and current threats that our children and staff face to date.
The gravamen of her petition is the school district's lack of armed security guards. "As the daughter of a retired Newark Police [d]etective and the sister of a retired Newark Police [o]fficer," McLean's petition says, "I know that we cannot have a police car at every school, everyday [sic], all day. What we can do is hire retired [p]olice [o]fficers to work at our schools, or armed security to work in our schools and be the first responders to protect our children. This is a necessary first step in protecting our children and [school] staff."
In a letter dated May 25, which expressed to the community the school district's condolences to the families affected by the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Superintendent Roger Leon stated that "For several months, we [Newark Public Schools] have been working at a heightened level of alert because of reported threats nationally, in New Jersey, and more specifically, here in Newark."
Notwithstanding this letter, McLean contends that, from her view, no improvements with respect to safety have been made. "I have read the letter sent out from the Board o[f] Education after the slaughter in Texas," McLean said, "and it does say that for several months NJ has been working on a heightened level of security, but I have yet to see that in action. Every day since the bomb threats or 'hoax threats,' as the city is calling them, I have driven by both of my children's schools and there has not been a police officer or anything different that would show anyone that our children and the school staff are being protected."
McLean concludes her petition by writing, "We should not have to send our children to school in fear for their lives. No faculty member should have to go to work in fear of their [sic] life. We must protect our children! We must protect our staff!"
Other parents experienced similar states of solicitude and uncertainty regarding the safety of their children. This was demonstrated on May 24 during a highly contentious board of education meeting that was fraught with contradicting information.
At the board meeting, school board member Josephine Garcia conceded that she was informed that at least two schools had received "hoax" bomb threats earlier in the day, according to ChalkBeat Newark. Garcia also said that, due to the threats, she was inundated with inquires from worried parents and concerned community members.
However, at the same meeting, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger Leon outright denied that any school had received such a threat.
“As it relates to bomb threats, if there would have been one we would have talked about it,” Leon said after Garcia mentioned the bomb threat, according to ChalkBeat. “It’s extremely important that we do not add to mass hysteria by saying there was a bomb threat in Newark when there wasn’t one.”
Further undermining Leon's version of events, in the afternoon of May 24, McLean received a message issued by Sylvia Esteves, the principal of Park Elementary, stating that Park Elementary had, in fact, "exercised an evacuation" earlier in the day.
In addition, ChalkBeat reported that the board's co-vice president, Vereliz Santana (who had also received an influx of questions from concerned community members pertaining to the purported bomb threats), recommended that, going forward, the district post updates on its official social media accounts to inform families about safety concerns, including threats that are being actively investigated.
This idea proposed by Santana was shot down, however, by Leon. According to Leon, discussing threats with parents and the community would only "add to mass hysteria."
New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:16-5.1, titled "School Safety and Security Plans," requires that all school districts in the state have "a school safety and security plan that meets the minimum state requirements."
While the the Administrative Code does not expressly require public school districts to apprise students' parents of active emergencies, subsection (a)(4) does require the plans and procedures adopted by the individual school districts to provide, at a minimum, "[s]upport services for staff, students and their families."
In January, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed legislation (i.e., A-5727/S-3726) which requires, inter alia, all school districts to "provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill." According to the newly passed legislation, notice shall be provided to the parent or guardian no later than the end of the school day on which the school security drill is conducted." A-5727 and S-3726 passed unanimously in the Assembly and the Senate, respectively.
Park Elementary, at the very least, met this requirement by issuing a statement informing parents that an evacuation had been conducted earlier in the day; however, parents--like McLean--are calling for the school district to be more transparent with regard to its preeminent task: the protection of its students.
In the wake of horrific violence against vulnerable schoolchildren, many conservatives are calling for increased safety measures, including armed guards, at the nation's public schools. Many Americans are outraged at the fact that the United States recently sent $40 billion to Ukraine. Such outrage has prompted tweets calling for increased protection at our schools, instead of carelessly sending money over seas.
"Want to be furious?" one Twitter user rhetorically asked. "We could place an armed security guard at the single entry point of every school in America and pay them $70K per year for roughly 1/5 of what Congress has sent Ukraine."
Schools have but two tasks: to teach our children how to think for themselves and to protect our children while educating them. In New Jersey, at least, the education system seems to being failing miserably in both respects.
Red Liberty Media reached out to Newark Public Schools as well as several members of its board of education; however, at the time of publication, no responses to our inquires were received.