Newark Students Union proposes a grassroots alternative to the district’s new student advisory cabinet

Newark students want more input in the school district’s decision-making and have come up with two different proposals for the board of education.

The school board’s student representative said he has created a 15-member cabinet, with one representative from each of the district’s high schools, that will discuss district policies.

The Newark Students Union — an entirely student-run organization — has a different idea, one that would institutionalize student representation and give their input more weight, according to group members. David Daughety, an Arts High School senior and Newark Students Union member, made the proposal at the district’s recent board meeting.

“NSU is formally petitioning the board for an advisory committee,” Daughety told the school board on Nov. 26. “It’s a seat at the table we deserve.”

The student advisory committee would discuss policies that directly impact students, and make recommendations to the school board. Daughety hopes it will give students a “firsthand and hands-on experience of reviewing policies and voicing their opinions.” 

If the board establishes the committee, he said, it will continue every year, regardless of who the student representative is.

In contrast, the newly formed student cabinet includes students recommended by their principals and reports to student board representative Bruno Coelho, a senior at Science Park High School, who will convey the cabinet’s suggestions to the school board.

Coelho could not be reached for comment.

Newark school board member A’Dorian Murray-Thomas expressed support for Coelho’s proposal and suggested that the board institutionalize the student cabinet beyond Coelho’s tenure. 

For the advisory committee, the student union hasn’t decided how many students would serve on it nor how they will be chosen, but Science Park senior and NSU member Azé Williams said the process will be as inclusive as possible, in line with the student union’s belief that all students are equal.

“Students deserve an input. Without the students, there is no district,” Daughety said.

The committee fits in with the Newark Students Union’s mission of effecting change in the district. Since it was founded in 2012, Newark Students Union has advocated for students and attracted national attention for its methods. 

Its members have occupied the district’s headquarters and helped stage a citywide school walkout that drew thousands of students into the streets, protesting the policies of a state-appointed superintendent who resigned shortly thereafter. The union joined calls for the state to return control of Newark’s schools to the local school board, which happened last February.

Since then, the Newark Students Union has been trying to work with the district’s elected board and superintendent, Roger León, by advocating for policies instead of staging protests.

León has said publicly that he regularly consults with students. But Williams said an advisory committee will provide students a more direct, formal avenue to be heard by district administration.

“Students have always been the driving force for change in history,” Williams said. “A lot of our demands fall on deaf ears and we will have to go to extremes like chaining ourselves to fire hydrants and poles in order for someone to finally listen to us. With this, we can finally make the change that we want to see.”

So far, Williams and Daughety say a district committee is scheduled to discuss their proposal in January. After a committee vote, the proposal could reach the board. The students hope to create the committee in the spring.

“I hope that this committee will give students the opportunity to be seen as equal and be heard,” Williams said, “since we are the people that bear the brunt of whatever political decisions adults make.”