Students Occupy Newark Public School Headquarters

February 18, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

Eight Newark students have taken over the Newark Public School system’s superintendent office, which they have been occupying since Tuesday evening. They will continue to demonstrate, they say, until their demands are met.

The sit-in, organized by the Newark Student Union, takes cues from national movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Eric Garner protests. The teens have organized a livestream, a social media campaign under #OccupyNPS, and banners and shirts with powerful slogans. “We’re all fighting for the same thing, for our rights,” said 15-year-old student Gabrielle Vera to ANIMAL over the phone.

Vera and her peers are rallying against the district’s controversial One Newark plan, championed by superintendent Cami Anderson. “We have two main demands right now,” said Vera. “Our first demand is for the removal of Cami Anderson as superintendent. We either want her to resign, or for her contract to be terminated by governor, Chris Christie.”

According to Vera, implementation of Anderson’s plan “hasn’t allowed for quality education, and public education is a right.”

“Our second demand is for Cami Anderson to attend the next board meeting on Feb. 24th at [Malcolm X] Shabazz High School,” she said. “Ever since our last sit-in in the spring of last year, Cami Anderson has refused to attend any of the board meetings, so it’s been a whole year since we’ve seen her.”

The students have been camping out in Anderson’s eighth floor suite at the Newark Public School’s main building on Cedar Street. They stormed the office around 8:30 PM, “during a Newark Public Schools Advisory Board business meeting” NJ.com reported. The employees “did not show up for work today” Vera said.

The students are joined by two NJ Community Unite members who have been helping provide food and drinks to the teens. NJ Community Unite member Thais Marques, who co-founded the student union, said that the students were denied food for 12 hours. It wasn’t until after 12 PM that the Board of Education finally allowed the breakfast upstairs, Vera said. As of Wednesday afternoon, no one was being allowed in the building — not even the mayor, she said. Eventually members of the Newark Clergy Council were allowed to bring food to the group.

As for the police, they showed up Tuesday evening but left “because we were peaceful,” Vera explained. “They haven’t arrested. They haven’t signaled that they are going to at this point.”

All are prepared to stay there for “as long as we have to.”

Neither the mayor’s office nor the governor’s office has responded to ANIMAL for comment.

(Photo: Gabrielle Vera)