Newark school board did not swear in Thomas Luna as new member

A man speaks behind a podium as he addresses the Newark board of education.
Residents addressed the Newark Board of Education during the public comment portion of the meeting on Sept. 27, 2022. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

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The Newark Board of Education did not swear in a city charter school teacher as its newest board member Tuesday, nearly a month after the candidate won a unanimous vote to fill the vacancy.

The board did not provide a direct explanation for why it delayed the swearing in of Thomas Luna, who has been a teacher in Newark for 10 years, most recently at KIPP RISE Academy.

Board President Hasani Council attributed the delay in the swearing in to information the board received from a public records request since the last meeting and a review of School Ethics Commission opinions regarding conflicts of interest for board members.

He didn’t explain further and couldn’t be reached for comment after the meeting. Newark School District Spokesperson Nancy Deering didn’t respond to requests for comment, and Luna declined to comment on the matter.

Luna was set to be sworn in during November’s school board meeting and serve on the board until April when school board elections for the new year take place. It is unclear if he will be sworn in during December’s school board meeting.

The news comes as board members continue to work on hiring their separate attorney, focus on improving student achievement, and push for the release of a long-awaited review of the cultural climate at Newark School of Global Studies a year after students and teachers reported incidents of racial harassment at the school.

Luna’s selection was the latest reshuffling of board members after Council was sworn in as president last month following former board President Asia Norton’s abrupt resignation two weeks after the start of the school year.

After Norton’s departure, the Newark board had 65 days to fill her vacant seat, according to New Jersey law. They solicited nominations from the community and received 10 applications, including one from former board member Flohisha Johnson. The current board interviewed the candidates during a private executive session in October and then voted unanimously to move forward with Luna. The vote was public.

Luna is a science teacher at a Newark KIPP school. He said his first order of business would be to make sure he gets his “personal bearings” about the work the board is doing.

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Luna ran for the school board twice before. Both times, he lost to the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate, which included Council and board members Josephine Garcia and Allison James-Frison in 2023. It included board members Daniel Gonzalez, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas and Crystal Williams in 2022. Historically, the slate has had strong backing from powerful state and local politicians including Mayor Ras Baraka and state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, who oversees Essex County.

Chalkbeat Newark interviewed Luna for the 2023 school board voter guide where he said, “The most pressing issue facing Newark schools today is achievement.”

The board must also fill another vacant position after Murray-Thomas won the Nov. 7 general election for a seat on the Essex County Board of Commissioners. Murray-Thomas ran as a Democrat against Khalil Kettles, who ran as an Independent, to represent District 2, which includes Newark, Irvington, and Maplewood.

Jessie Gómez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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