Students walked out of this major city charter school in protest to the treatment of Black teachers and students.
Charter schools represent school choice. They often give underprivileged families the opportunity to give their children the education they deserve, regardless of their location. There has been a major push to implement charter schools within larger cities as a way to give equal educational opportunities to more Black and Hispanic communities. But what if those schools are mistreating their Black teachers? What happens then? This is a matter unfolding at one of New Jersey’s biggest charter school divisions, as students last week walked out in protest of the mistreatment of both teachers and students at a charter school in Newark.
Last Friday, hundreds of students walked out of the Lincoln Park High School campus of North Start Academy, New Jersey’s largest charter school operator that teaches more than six thousand students in Newark and Camden. The students then rallied outside City Hall with others, including former Black teachers at the charter school, to call attention to the routine mistreatment of Black people within the school. Across North Star’s campuses, 45% of staff members identify as Black, and more than three-quarters of the charter school’s students identify as Black.
During the protest regarding the treatment of Black teachers, the school went into lockdown. Students who left the campus were not allowed back in the building after they returned from City Hall. Some students said they planned to walk home, while others set out for the charter schools’ other campuses downtown to see if they could get in. One mother reported that she was completely unaware of what was happening as she was denied entry to the school when attempting to pick up her senior son. She added that she was “very upset.”
The Lincoln Park High School campus is part of North Star Charter Schools. North Star is part of the Uncommon Schools network of charter schools. They are one of New Jersey’s oldest and highest-achieving charter schools. Recently, efforts from Uncommon School’s leadership sought to address complaints about racial inequity among students and Black teachers.
A variety of students and staff members within Uncommon School’s charters took to an Instagram account called Black At Uncommon to share their negative experiences which many described as a ritualistic school culture that felt overly strict and unwelcoming to Black teachers and students. In the aftermath of this account going viral, the president of Uncommon Schools, Julie Jackson, published a letter in July 2020 addressing the Instagram account. In the letter, Jackson detailed a notion that the charter schools would work together to create an anti-racist organization through a promise of immediate actions. These steps included the hiring of diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants, a thorough curriculum review, and better staff training to make sure all students and staff feel respected and valued.
Many staff and students feel that the actions of Uncommon Schools did little to nothing to address the ongoing equity problem. Over at the protest, student organizers and former Black teachers gave speeches about the appropriation of anti-Blackness that permeates in schools as the crowd of students cheered and waved signs. One senior protest attendee said he was “tired” and “fed up.” Going on, the student accused the charter school of acting like it has made strides in equity change but actually hasn’t done anything. “We know it’s the same school we’ve been going to forever now,’ he said. Several other students iterated that multiple Black teachers have left over the last few years for feeling undervalued.