In Newark, a teacher’s Halloween costume fuels racism debate at a top school

Welcome to Chalkbeat Newark's weekly newsletter! We’re sending the newsletter a little later than usual this week to include our latest story about claims of racism at a prestigious Newark school. Read about that and much more below.

— Patrick Wall, senior reporter

The big story

A debate about racism and cultural insensitivity has flared up, again, at Science Park High School.

On Halloween, a white P.E. teacher at the popular district school wore a costume — including a Barack Obama mask and “Make America Great Again” cap — that deeply offended some students.

The students described the costume at a school meeting this month, along with other incidents they said have left black students in particular feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable. Some parents were outraged.

The latest controversy comes after the school hosted a town hall meeting about racism last year. That meeting was in response to reports of non-black students using the N-word, along with other racist incidents.

And just this month, protests ensued after a vice principal told black female students to remove their head wraps. Some students wear the coverings for religious reasons or as a symbol of black cultural pride.

The administration has tried to address students’ concerns. But some students and parents consider the response inadequate.

“It’s like the students’ emotions were minimized and literally swept under the rug,” one black student said. “Honestly, as a student, I feel like, ‘Why am I here?’ sometimes.”

Read the full story here.

What to watch

What else is happening around Newark schools.

The behind-the-scenes work that drives Newark’s graduation rates

  • What to know: After Newark’s graduation rate slipped three percentage points last year, some observers are trying to figure out what happened.
  • One theory points to the behind-the-scenes work that can boost the district’s grad rate.
  • That work includes letting seniors recover missing credits over the summer, and removing students who left the district from the rolls.
  • If the district’s graduation data wasn’t updated last year to reflect that work, that could have caused the dip.
  • That’s the theory, anyway — no current officials have given an explanation for the decline.
  • One big question: Will officials open up about what might have caused the rate to drop?

Newark news & events

Local education reporting and upcoming events.

Cory 2020…

  • A deep dive into Cory Booker’s controversial education legacy in Newark, and what it means for his presidential bid. Vox

School board election…

  • The 10 contenders in this year’s board election discussed charter schools, the return to local control, and more at their first candidates forum. TAPinto Newark

School ratings…

  • A few Newark schools landed near the very bottom in the state’s new rankings, while some others were close to the top. TAPinto Newark
  • The state ratings try to disentangle schools’ performance from their demographics, but the system is still controversial., NJ Spotlight

NPS info…

  • Superintendent Roger León will host a series of community meetings, beginning this week, to discuss his plans for the district. Newark Public Schools
  • The SPAN parent leadership and advocacy conference is this Saturday at NJIT. Newark Public Schools
  • More than 450 Newark students participated in a “STEM” event at NJIT. Newark Public Schools
  • A team from Barringer High School won gold medals at a recent robotics competition. Go Blue Bears! Newark Public Schools

News from Trenton & beyond

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark.

School funding…

  • A new report says that New Jersey’s school funding formula needs major adjustments. NJ Spotlight
  • State lawmakers plan to hold four public hearings about Gov. Murphy’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, including one hearing in Newark this Thursday. NJ Spotlight
  • Murphy is depending on a controversial tax expansion on millionaires to help fund his spending plan. NJ Spotlight
  • Opinion: Consolidating some of the state’s hundreds of school districts could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

School safety…

  • A new law allows retired prison guards to become armed school police officers.

“Climate strikes”…

  • Students across NJ and the U.S. attended protests last week to call for action to address climate change.

Child care…

  • Opinion: New Jersey’s child care industry is against a state bill that would let public schools serve as child care centers for infants.

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

Newark’s Great Oaks Legacy Charter School (GOLCS) is preparing to graduate is third group of high school seniors. On March 1st, GOLCS held its Annual Senior Brunch to recognize the students and their families. Already, 96 percent of GOLCS seniors have been accepted into college, with a combined total of 763 college acceptances and $6,915,863 in first-year scholarships.

Photo credit: Great Oaks Legacy Charter School