Thousands of high school students in Newark, New Jersey walked out of their classes before the start of the Memorial Day weekend, marching through city streets and closing a major intersection, all to protest the policies of the school district.
Organized by the Newark Students Union and advocacy group NJ Communities United, the students marched through the city streets and stopped outside City Hall, holding signs that read “”Save Our Schools” and “We Have Rights.”
“Most people walk around this world, thinking that they can’t get nowhere…but us, as young people, we have a voice. We need to speak for ourselves,” 18-year-old Quinnetta Owens-Culver said. “The message is for saving our schools in Newark,” she added.
The protest continued through the plaza outside the Peter W. Rodino Federal Office Building before students came to a stop on McCarter highway at the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike and other major highways.
“We did not come here…to play a game,” 18-year-old Kristin Towkaniuk, a senior at Science Park High School and president of the Newark Students Union, told the crowd at the intersection. “We’re done playing games with our education.”
The protest comes as the latest effort from students to speak out against Superintendent Cami Anderson and district plans to change eight schools into “turnaround” schools next year to put a stop to struggling performance.
In accordance with the turnaround program, teachers would be required to sign agreements that could result in them working longer hours as well as on multiple Saturdays, in addition to adding two weeks of professional development training during the summer months.
The teachers’ contract, which expires next month, allows the district to label up to 10 schools as turnaround schools each year. Those teachers affected by such a decision would receive a $3,000 stipend each year.
Student protesters argued that increasing the school day would make participating in extracurricular activities more difficult and may result in an increase in the high school dropout rate, writes Bill Wichert for NJ.com.
Newark Public Schools spokeswoman Brittany Parmley released a statement publicly criticizing the walkout calling it a disruption to the school day, and adding that it would not affect the district’s commitment to the turnaround schools.
“While the District supports our students’ right to express their opinions and concerns, we cannot support these actions when they disrupt the regular instructional day,” Parmley said in the statement. “The District remains committed to broadening opportunities for Newark’s students through expanded learning time and through creating additional professional development opportunities for teachers.”