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Newark Public Schools officials have two weeks to provide a state Superior Court judge with a copy of the report on the cultural dynamics at the Newark School of Global Studies to determine whether it can be released publicly.
The scathing report, which the district has not made public, was commissioned after incidents of racial harassment against Black students and staff at the high school surfaced more than a year ago. The Newark Teachers Union sued the district in November for access to the report after its public-records request was denied.
Judge Mayra Tarantino on Tuesday ordered the district to submit the document by Feb. 6 for the court’s private review. The judge also called for both sides to submit arguments on whether the report should be public record and whether any materials held by Creed Strategies, the consulting firm that compiled the report, are also subject to the Open Public Records Act.
Raymond Baldino, an associate at the Zazzali law firm representing the teachers union said the union requested the court’s private review of the document “rather than accept the district’s claim at face value that the report cannot be made public.”
The next hearing for this case hasn’t been scheduled, Baldino said. The district could appeal the judge’s order, he said, but attorneys have not had any discussions about that or a settlement.
Nancy Deering, the district’s spokesperson, and Craig Novak of the Taylor Law Group, who represents the district on the case, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
In documents submitted to the court in December, Superintendent Roger León argued that releasing the report would have a “chilling effect” on discussions about racial dialogue and sensitivity practices at Newark School of Global Studies and districtwide.
The new court order comes amid persistent tensions between the community and the district over the lack of solutions and transparency on the issue after incidents of harassment against Black students and staff at the high school first surfaced in late 2022. The issues sparked heavy criticism from the community about the response from school and district leaders, who had known about the problems months before they became public.
The situation resulted in at least half a dozen Black students requesting transfers out of the high school and two Black teachers resigning. The former teachers have also filed legal claims with state and federal offices, alleging they experienced harassment and racial hostility from students and supervisors.
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In early 2023, the Newark school board commissioned a report on the cultural, religious, and racial dynamics at Global Studies High School. But later that year, León said the report would not be released publicly despite requests from members and community leaders. The district last fall shared only parts of the report that contained three recommendations for the district.
The union filed a public records request for access to the full report on Sept. 29, 2023, arguing that it has an interest in the release of the report and in knowing of any changes or recommendations to the district’s approach to handling student and staff issues related to “anti-Blackness” or “cultural sensitivity,” ultimately affecting teachers in the district.
The district denied the request, citing a legal exemption that allows some draft documents or advisory documents to be withheld from the public. Other parties, including Chalkbeat Newark, have also requested access to the report.
The recommendations released in the fall called on the district to assess the effects of “anti-Blackness” on the school system, foster conversations about racial issues, build school staff capacity to identify cultural gaps, and create an environment that is racially conscious and inclusive.
The recommendations came as the high school’s vice principal, Hoda Abdelwahab, left the district. She was among those called out by community leaders during board meetings and in legal claims filed by former teachers at the high school for handling the issues poorly.
Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at firstname.lastname@example.org.