Trenton, NJ Parents and Students Protest Against Charters

Almost 60 residents from several districts around New Jersey came to the state Department of Education's headquarters to protest against the expansion of charter schools into their communities, writes Michael Symons at the Statehouse Bureau.

The event was dubbed "Occupy the DOE," mimicking the name of, and said to be inspired by, the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Protesters made their way through the lobby, chanting "Charter reform now!" before being kicked out after a department staffer told them that nobody was there for them to speak to. A state trooper also asked them to leave.

"You're not allowed to impede the business of the department," the staffer told them.

"How can we impede the business if there's nobody here?" said a protester.

This comes after Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that could see a flood of applications for new charters to be considered by the Department. A record 27 charter schools were approved this year.

"Yet what goes on in this office every day seems to focus on that 3 percent," said protest organizer Darcie Cimarusti.

A Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra said acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf met in August with Cimarusti and other protests who opposed to the proposed Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School.

"In addition to evaluating the quality of the proposed program, we also take into account feedback both from districts and the general public. We take seriously all public comment that we receive in the review process," Barra said.

"We welcome an open, honest, and productive dialogue about proposed charter applications."

Protesters chanted slogans like "Local control, that's how we roll," and "We want a say in what we pay," while marching.

Some signs endorsed legislation that would require voter approval before the establishment of a charter school. This legislative proposal was approved by the Assembly but not in the Senate.

"Charter schools do not belong in high-performing districts. Cherry Hill is a high-performing district," said Rita McClellan, another protestor.

"I want answers. There's no way this charter should have been approved."

Cimarusti said two existing charter schools in the borough have hurt its traditional public schools by diverting $300,000 from their budget.

Protestors also claim that a charter seeking approval in January would lead to additional teacher layoffs.

"We want to save our schools," Cimarusti said.

"We don't quite understand why the state Department of Education seems determined to put charters in communities that don't want them."

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