Tag Archive: children

Anderson’s “One Newark” Scheme: The Results Could Be Deadly

Normally the debate over school reform isn’t considered, at least in the immediate sense, a life or death issue. Deliberations concerning teacher tenure, educator workload, class sizes, meal quality, even building conditions can get heated, but rarely overlap with the subject of mortality. But this time things are different. As a former Newark resident and Public School teacher, I am writing to express my serious concern. Due to Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” Plan, and its total obliteration of neighborhood schools, children will probably die. It’s sickening to contemplate. Unthinkable – but logically speaking, all of the pieces are falling into place for an unprecedented series of disasters to ensue.

For the uninformed, Anderson’s “One Newark” Plan has replaced neighborhood schools with a network of schools – charter, magnet and traditional – that parents “apply” to through a universal application. Parents list something like their top two or three choices and through a complex algorithm, students wind up with a school. Sometimes it’s a school they’ve selected, sometimes it is not. The school could be a block away, or on the opposite side of the city. Regardless, come this September, tens of thousands of Newark Public School students will be transformed into hardened commuters, traversing the city’s vast distances by bus, car, light rail and foot to get to and from school. Some daily student commutes will be more than 10 miles through a dense, busy and varied urban environment.

Students at all levels – elementary, middle and high school – will be forced to spend long periods of time in transit. Students will be at bus stops and on busses before sunrise. For those thousands attending after-school events like dances, club meetings, games and concerts, evening bus trips and long walks, sometimes in near-to-total darkness, will be the norm. And it should be pointed out that some games and concerts, especially in the high schools, can end as late as 9 p.m.

Students will be required to do this every day. They will be subjected to the elements during the pleasant, warm mornings of September and during the freezing rainstorms of December. Heat waves, cold snaps, traffic jams, neighborhoods with serious safety issues…all will challenge children and teens, and relentlessly so.

This isn’t a commentary to criticize Newark specifically, but let’s be realistic about this. It’s New Jersey’s largest, densest city. Even to an adult with a car, Newark is a huge, sprawling metropolis of broad, lengthy boulevards and steep hills. The sidewalks in some places are falling apart, and entire stretches of pedestrian walkways, even in the city’s bustling Central Ward, go without proper maintenance or snow removal for weeks at a time.

Add into this mix tens of thousands of overstressed commuters hurrying to get to and from work during rush hours and you’re just asking for catastrophe. Don’t take my word for it. Stand at any intersection along Springfield or Central Avenues at 8 a.m. and you will witness cars, vans and busses bolting by at speeds upward to 50 miles and hour or faster. Trucks blaze through yellow lights like Doc’s DeLorean from Back to the Future. Emergency vehicles regularly shriek down Newark’s avenues with a rapidity that, from the perspective of a confused Fourth Grader, approaches light speed.

Now I know that we all take our lives into our hands whenever we venture out of bed each morning. Every step we take is with God’s Grace, no doubt. But if this plan is implemented, the odds of a child coming into harm’s way, either through an accident or as a victim of a crime, will increase astronomically. Every day tens of thousands of children will be moving through and learning in neighborhoods far away from their homes, parents and guardians.

Many parents in Newark don’t have cars, because one of the main advantages of living in a big city like Newark, with its workable public transportation system, is that some can do without them. Additionally, many of Newark’s parents and guardians are low-income and desperately poor. In the case of an emergency, caregivers could take hours to get to school to attend to a child in distress. In inclement weather it could take longer.

These are all disturbing speculations, but they’re not the stuff of fantasy. There are many reasons to stop the “One Newark” program, but perhaps the logistical and perilous nightmare it will create for Newark’s children is the most compelling. We send our students to school to learn, not to die.

I hope I am wrong. But if I am not, the responsibility will lie completely and instantly with Superintendent Anderson and ultimately with the Governor himself. Children are not adults; they’re not independent agents responsible for themselves. Anderson has enacted this drastic, heartless plan and she will be held to its results

Saving New Jersey’s children three zip codes at a time

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield blog. – Promoted by Rosi.

Yesterday the mayors of New Jersey’s three largest cities, Ras Baraka of Newark, Jose Torres of Paterson and Steven Fulop of Jersey City, announced a bold move to collaborate on reducing violent crime in all three cities.

The proposal evolved from the Passaic River Corridor Initiative along Route 21, which has involved as many as 80 municipalities sharing police intelligence, according to Tom O’Reilly, the head of the Police Institute at Rutgers University. State authorities have said the program has led to hundreds of arrests.

But sharing police officers among three large cities that are not adjacent to one another while also combining social services is “sort of a first,” O’Reilly said. “They are challenging the traditional ways of thinking,” he said of the mayors. “The idea that three mayors have cut across bureaucratic lines is the first step.”

Unaccompanied kids fleeing from violence to the U.S.: A morning in NJ’s Immigration Court

While comprehensive immigration reform is flailing in the murky waters of midterm congressional elections and Republican intransigence, the humanitarian concern for unaccompanied children escaping from violence in northern Central America and seeking refuge in the U.S. has captured the attention of many. Since October according to Homeland Security there have been 52,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. – double the number from last year.

The kids are generally first sent to detention centers where they are screened and catalogued and then dispersed throughout the country to family members, foster care or other facilities. According to a law signed by President George W. Bush those who come unaccompanied from countries not contiguous to the U.S. such as Central America can not be immediately returned to their land of origin. Instead they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge and an opportunity to seek asylum – a drawn-out procedure with no public defender, a confusing legal system, and slim chances for gaining legal status.

Some of the children end up in New Jersey where there are two immigration courts but only one with a juvenile docket. It is in Newark on the twelfth floor of the Federal Building on Broad Street. I spent a few hours at the court, passed through slow, rigorous security at the entrance, talked with several of the children (I speak Spanish), and at one point was ordered by a judge to appear before him to explain who I was and why I was taking notes. But this is a story about the shy, quiet, and nicely dressed kids appearing before judges who have the authority to deport them back to a tumultuous, dangerous existence.  

One in 50

With the shocking news this morning that 1 in 50 children now has autism I had to write today.

Because New Jersey has one of the highest rates, this is an increasingly emotional issue here. Many autism activists reside here, because NJ children appear to be on the front lines of this battle.  We tend to manage treatment much better than some other places in the United States. Perhaps how we treat these children encourages parents in need of services to move here, and that increases those numbers in NJ, but the real story should simply be the staggering number of children with an autism diagnosis.

This story brings up memories of a boy I knew growing up and it breaks my heart now to think of him. As a child I lived in a quiet neighborhood at the end of a dead end street. Our backyard fence was shared with the yard behind ours where a childhood friend lived. She would always visit our house but we rarely if ever saw the inside of hers and never played in her backyard.   I never really got to know her little brother, whose name I am ashamed to admit, I can’t even remember, but he was a constant presence in my life then.  As a sat on my child’s swing in my backyard and played with my friends in our kiddie pool and I sang songs with my sisters, he was always there.  On the other side of that darn fence that had slats I could barely peak through. I could not see him – he was always hidden away but I could hear him, breathing and pacing and grunting. Always moving.  Restless but never speaking, always there, he seemed agonized by something that only he could see or hear.  He liked to be near the fence, close to us. Maybe he liked the singing.  I always wished he could speak or participate some way. How he was kept there by himself always alone and silent but tortured was so very sad to me.  He seemed  an injured creature pacing fretfully in a cage that nobody knew how to unlock to help him.

The thought of that makes me cry when I think of it now – knowing what I know now about autism. He may have  been able to completely understand what we said but not able to speak to us.  He may have been in pain – looking back it seems that he was.  He would sometimes grow very agitated but he could never tell us what was causing his agitation.  It was haunting.  I grew up and moved away and life intervened, but now, I look back and understand better than I did then.  I want to help children like him. I want to unlock those cages.  I want to calm them and communicate with them and find out what is inside – what they are thinking what they are feeling.  If they are feeling pain, I want to help heal that. Maybe that is what led my older sister to become a speech pathologist – who worked with autistic children when she was a grad student at Rutgers in the 80’s. It must be the most maddening thing to be a parent who knows their child is in distress and not having that child able to speak and actually tell them what is wrong so they can fix it.  I don’t have any children of my own, but I could not imagine being able to bear that kind of heartbreak.  Maybe because I couldn’t have kids, each one I see is so precious and unique and special and deserves to be treated as an individual and their needs not thrown under a bus in some quest for the Greater Good, or herd mentality.  Autistic children are still outnumbered by children who are not, but we need to understand exactly what makes them different and special because then maybe, just maybe, we can prevent a child from developing autism, or help treat them and relieve their pain, soothe them, understand them and free them to communicate so we can include them in our society in a way that elevates all of us.  

Pretty Little Blond Girl Goes Missing

Pretty little blonde girl, just 12, petite and with a name – Autumn – that marks the season she was murdered, hops on her bike in the early afternoon and never comes home.

And now we know. The bike was found. Then she was found, and it was awful. I know somebody who lives in that town, and is deeply affected, so I’ve been tracking the story all day, along with a lot of other folks.

Newspaper accounts are factual, TV reports more or less direct. What fascinates me today, though, are the comments after the stories, and the Facebook remarks following postings of the awful details of Autumn’s death.

The boys now charged with Autumn’s murder are black. She was white. And the bloodlust that has risen up since that fact – and their picture in cuffs – is in evidence is frighteningly racist, and worked-up in a way that singularly seems tied to the loss of a blond girl and the guilt – alleged – of young black men.

No, I won’t be linking. But along with the community’s heartfelt sympathy and expressions of sadness for her, and fear for their own kids, there are discussions of stringing the boys up. “Lynching them old-school.” “Pitchforks and torches.” Suggestions there should be “retroactive abortion”.

I can only wonder at the shadow-streak of sadness across Clayton, NJ tonight. There’s a community church service going on right now; it must be both awful and beautiful to be there in her memory.

When little blond kids go missing, the world takes notice in ways we don’t all take stock of. I’m not immune. When I was 16, I might have saved a little blond boy – it happened fast and I’ll never know. When I was 22, I searched Manhattan for a little blond boy; Etan Patz. Was that because he was a neighborhood kid? Or a photogenic little white face whose heroine I wanted to be? I’ll never know.  

But not too far from where I live, the threat to little kids is constant. And I confess: I hardly ever touch on it in my mind. But it’s inescapable in some houses, for some families, in some neighborhoods. In my town, which used to be white and well-off and is less those things now, some of my neighbors have lost some of the neighborliness that should define small towns like this one, and maybe like Clayton. The crumbling facades and empty stores aren’t about the economy, a rerouted road, local Wal-Mart or anything random for these people. No, these people are most comfortable seeking scapegoats among their neighbors. Impossible not to notice that the neighbors my neighbors hate are darker than they are. And the terms they use to describe them are awful.

Autumn Pasquale’s death is awful, and will and should be felt deeply. But I’m troubled by the fact that too many of us only raise our heads and open our hearts when the randomness of the horror – girl killed for bike parts – seems so improbable and the victim so attractive to us that it consumes us. When the violence is everyday, when the conversation is about spiraling murder rates and walks to school are scary, drive-bys take the boy next door, and the one down the street, is the currency of young lives lost somehow less? I know we would never say so. But don’t we act as though it’s true?

When we see TV, radio and social media light up for a pretty white child gone missing, and barely take note when another child is taken, exploited, killed randomly or killed with intent, aren’t we valuing one life above others? And what are we saying to those parents?

My neighbors speak about their neighbors like their parents don’t worry about them, as though

Thousands of NJ-7 Seniors at Risk Under GOP Plan

promoted by Rosi

A new analysis by the House Commerce Committee provides District by District information on the impact of Republican Medicare Plan and Medicaid cuts, illuminating the disastrous impact of the Ryan Budget supported by my opponent right here in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District.

Congressman Leonard Lance supported the Ryan budget, which ends Medicare as we know it, turning Medicare into a voucher program.

Here is the impact, by the numbers on NJ-7’s CD directly from the analysis:

  • Reduce coverage for 8,400-dual eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities.

  • Jeopardize nursing home care for 1,800

  • Impair the healthcare of 13,000 children (including 400 newborns)

  • Cut payments for Emergency Room visits for 5,000 patients

  • Cut payments to hospitals for 1,500 inpatient visits

Medicaid assistance under the Ryan Plan cuts an average of $13,000 per enrollee over the next decade, putting seniors and persons with disabilities at risk.

This analysis is aligned with the report from May by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), which estimated that a typical 65-year-old Medicare beneficiary in 2022 would see their out-of-pocket health care costs increase from $6,154 to $12,513 under the Republican budget.

If the Ryan plan to turn Medicare into an inadequate voucher program, for which Congressman Lance voted, were to be signed into law, seniors across America would face bleak economic prospects. But with the exception of Florida, there is no state more disastrously impacted than right here in New Jersey. Congressman Lance has seen these numbers and well knows that by 2022 out of pocket expenses for the typical 65-year old enrollee in New Jersey would jump from $6,832.43 to $13,892.47, the second biggest increase in America ($7,060.03).

I’ll fight against that ever being enacted every day I’m in office.

Please help me in fighting for our Seniors and standing up to the GOP’s Budget by joining Congressman Barney Frank at an event supporting my 2012 campaign for Congress on June 18th in Warren, Somerset County, NJ.  RSVP Today.

All Aboard: Budget Hearing Train Starts Monday

Senate and Assembly Budget Committees will begin their first hearing on the 2012 budget on Monday at Bergen Community College in Paramus. These hearings are an opportunity to let legislators know what you think is important. And legislators are more likely to pay attention to you this year.

more below

Christie administration to teachers: Just retire already

To watch the fight between the NJEA and Chris Christie, you would think the teachers are the cause of all our state’s ills. Now that the Governor may be proposing a plan that says if they retire before August 1, the teachers don’t have to pay anything toward their benefits:

“Some people say it would lead to a rash of retirements,” said Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It would free up a lot of possibilities for schools.”

Sure, not a bad thing that many of the experienced people responsible for educating our future leaders have a mass exodus, which is exactly what the teachers are saying will happen. They are saying as many as 30,000 teachers could retire and it may actually cost the state even more:

In a press release, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said the flood of retirements could also strain the state’s anemic pension system.

Teachers contribute 5.5 percent of each paycheck to the pension fund but the state has for 15 years underfunded its share, Keshishian said.

“The average teacher retires at age 61,” said Keshishian. “It is estimated that for every year that a teacher retires sooner than she otherwise would, the cost to the pension system increases by 10 percent for her pension and benefits.” Veteran teachers are eligible to retire at 55; the age has recently been pushed to 60 for new hires.

And after underfunding its share for the last 15 years, the state is contributing nothing to the fund this year making the problem even worse. So the fight continues and the rhetoric heats up. Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to have their say on school budgets and then we’ll see what the playing field really looks like.

NJEA worries about Chris Christie

The NJEA released an ad yesterday called worry, highlighting some of the concerns they say Chris Christie presents:

The ad features a librarian talking about Christie’s opposition of the family leave law, Christie’s proposal for mandate free policies, his position on pre-k as babysitting and funding for public schools. Christie decided to not participate in the NJEA candidate screening process for a potential endorsement opting to do his talking if elected.  I guess they have something to say to him before that happens.

They also set up a website, njkidsandfamilies.org which features an extended version of the ad and some of Christie’s positions they believe are important. Visitors can also sign a petition urging Governor Corzine to continue his support for kids and families, while urging Christie to change his position on the issues that matter most to them.

$440 million in School Construction heads to the voters tomorrow

General Election day may be over a month away still, but voters will head to the polls tomorrow to decide the fate of $440 million in school construction projects. From the NJ School Board Association:

In the same way families across the nation are seeking to make their homes more energy efficient, school boards are proposing questions asking voters to approve energy-saving initiatives. Ten of the 25 bond referendums on Tuesday’s ballot specifically cite new windows, doors, boilers or HVAC systems; another eight seek solar panels.

For example, the Pennsauken School District proposes to demolish a school built in 1925 and replace it with the district’s first energy efficient “green” school. Ocean City School District’s Web site says its project would include replacing a 40-year-old electrical HVAC system with a more efficient gas system that is expected to save over $1.5 million during its lifespan. Solar projects are proposed in school districts in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Monmouth, Salem and Union counties.

Of the total $440 million that is being requested, more than $157 million would qualify for state aid, either through one-time school-construction grants, annual “debt service aid” payments to school districts, or rebates through the state’s Clean Energy program.

Here’s what a member of the association had to say about the initiatives:

“This is the most school construction activity we’ve seen for one day since September 2005,” said Mike Yaple, an association spokesman who has been tracking such referendums for a decade. “We’re edging up toward almost half-a-billion dollars in school construction proposals. That’s quite a bit.”

I’ll put the full list of districts and projects below the fold. The School board association says that this Tuesday is one of five dates available for special elections each year and the next eligible day is December 8. Do you usually vote in these school referendums?