Students tell of Black-brown tensions at Newark school ahead of town hall meeting

Newark School of Global Studies

The School of Global Studies is a magnet high school in the Newark Public Schools district, with a mostly-Latino student body, located in a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media For


The Newark School of Global Studies is a public high school that opened two years ago as what the district described as “a place where a diverse student body converges with no borders.”

But the convergence of Black students and a largely Latino student body and staff have been followed by racial tensions that are transcending the school’s borders, with teens and adults airing their concerns at Board of Education meetings and a spate of related student transfers from the school, not all of them voluntary.

“The ill-treatment of Black students and our issues in Newark’s School of Global Studies, Black students’ issues, are being pushed aside as racial tensions continue to happen with the students,” Karlene Grant, a member of the school’s Black Student Union, told the Newark Board of Education at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting.

“I do not feel safe in Newark’s School of Global Studies,” Grant said of the specialized school, which is open to students from across the district. “I have asked to transfer and [been] told by guidance counselors multiple times, ‘You cannot transfer,’ or ‘If you leave, how would that make us feel?’”

Several school board members apologized to the students and assured them that steps were being taken to address the situation, though they did not say what those steps were. A district spokesperson later declined to elaborate.

Board members have been invited to join Mayor Ras Baraka, a former Newark high school principal, to address the School of Global Studies situation and the broader issue of race relations during a town hall-style meeting at 6 p.m. at Newark City Hall on Feb. 15. The event, titled, “Black and Latino Unity Through Education,” is open to the public.

“We are aware of what has happened there and have spoken to students, staff, administration, and the superintendent,” Baraka said in a statement.

Newark’s total population of 307,000 is 48.2% Black and 36.8% Latino, or Hispanic, according to July 2021 Census estimates. But at the School of Global Studies, located in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the city’s Central Ward, Latino students outnumber their Black counterparts 2-1, according to 2021 state Department of Education data, which put the percentages at 64% and 31.6% respectively, with non-Hispanic white students making up most of the remainder.

And despite the school’s founding principles of diversity and diplomacy, simmering racial tensions began to boil over this fall, prompting students, parents and others to speak out at board meetings last fall, particularly after they felt their concerns were not being addressed at the school level.

NAACP President Deborah Smith-Gregory appeared at the Jan. 26 board meeting, calling on Black and brown students, parents and staff, and Newark’s broader community to resist allowing tensions to divide them.

Newark School of Global Studies

The main entrance to the Newark School of Global Studies on Crane Street.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media For

“This whole Latino-Black thing that is trying to be generated and created is a narrative that we in this city cannot afford, will not afford,” said Smith-Gregory, who called for mandatory sensitivity training for school administrators.

In addition to the sensitive nature of racial/ethnic relations, the overlapping roles of some people have complicated the situation. For example, Board President Dawn Haynes’ daughter, Akela, a high school junior, was transferred out of Global Studies last November after a physical altercation with a Latino classmate.

Two months later, a male Latino friend of the student involved in the altercation was transferred out of Global Studies following a related encounter with Haynes and her daughter on Jan. 3 outside the school on the night of a Black Student Union meeting.

In interviews with NJ Advance Media, both sets of parents defended their children’s actions. Haynes and her husband, Raashon Reynolds, said their daughter was thriving at her new school. But Rosanny Cubilete and Francisco Reyes said their son, Matthew, had suffered from the loss of his friends at Global Studies and the greater distance he has to travel to and from his new school.

Cubilete and Reyes said their son was transferred without their consent and with no formal explanation other than a phone call from Global Studies Principal Nelson Ruiz the night of Jan. 10, one day before Matthew’s transfer.

Ruiz, the principal, did not respond to a request for comment.

Matthew, a 16-year-old junior, described the Jan. 3 encounter with Haynes in a phone interview monitored by his parents. He said he had his sister drive him to the evening meeting at the school, anticipating that he would see Haynes and could ask her whether she approved of her daughter’s behavior.

The mayor had attended the meeting and was on the sidewalk with a police officer assigned to his security detail, Haynes, Akela and Haynes’ baby daughter. A friend of Reyes made a cell phone video of the encounter, in which the mayor appears surprised by the encounter and leaves it up to the officer to keep the peace.

The video shows Matthew exiting the car’s front passenger seat and walking toward Haynes before the officer places himself in the boy’s way, making it clear he should not go any further or try to engage the board president. Not much more happens before the video ends.

“I approached Dawn to ask her if she allowed her daughter to act like that?” Reyes said, referring to the board president. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Haynes had a different interpretation of the boy’s intentions.

“Did I feel like I was in danger?” she said later. “Yes, I did.”

Despite her daughter’s involvement, Haynes said she did not feel the need to recuse herself from board actions or discussions related to the School of Global Studies.

Francisco Reyes was among members of the public to speak at the Jan. 26 board meeting.

“My son got kicked out of the school, got transferred out of the school for no reason,” Reyes told board members, insisting it wasn’t only Black students who were mistreated at Global Studies. “Kids are being mistreated in school, Black, white, Hispanic. Everybody’s being mistreated.”

Deering, the district spokesperson, said, “there is an appeal process that parents or families can request when they believe any action is unfair or incorrect. "

The most dramatic public comments during the meeting came from students.

“How would you feel every morning if you wake up and remember that you’re going to a place that doesn’t want you there?” Samiyah Dunham told board members.

“There is not enough Black staff, and some of the Black staff that are there don’t want to show what it’s like to be Black,” Dunham told the board. “They are very ignorant toward Black people and their problems. The administration does not care about the issues that are clearly displayed in the environment. When in the school of Global Studies, it makes me not want to do my work the way I used to.”

Yamia Bermudez told the board she had had enough and was transferring out. “Today is my last day at Newark School of Global studies,” she said.

Others accused school officials of trying to manipulate them into keeping silent about the situation with a pizza party on Dec. 9, two days after a Black Student Union meeting when they raised concerns. “You should feel ashamed by the fact that you’ve exploited these children and allowed their oppressors to get away with inflicting abuse on them completely unscathed,” said student David M. Allen.

But Haynes apologized to Allen and other students, insisting that was never the intent. In an interview later, Haynes said she was eager for next week’s town hall and a candid discussion of the issues that would set the community back on a unified footing.

“I would encourage everybody to come,” Haynes said. “At the end of the day, this city is a Black and brown city.”

Newark Board of Education President Dawn Haynes

Newark Board of Education President Dawn Haynes seen here during a Jan. 26 meeting when several Global Studies students addressed the board. Haynes' daughter was transferred out of the school after an altercation last fall.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media For

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