Protesters occupy Education Dept. lobby, demand charter school reform
TRENTON — Protesters angry about the Christie administration's charter school initiatives briefly occupied the lobby of the state Department of Education this morning, chanting, "charter reform now!"
The group of about 50 people from Highland Park, Edison, New Brunswick, Teaneck, Montclair, Cherry Hill, Voorhees and South Orange said the state was dividing their communities by considering putting charter schools there.
"Why, when we have a high-performing district, would they approve a charter school?" said Rita McClellan of Cherry Hill.
A State Police trooper responded to the protest and asked the residents to leave the department's lobby after they were told that no one from Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf's office was available to speak with them.
The protesters delivered several boxes of petitions against applications for charter schools in their communities before peacefully going back outside. They said the state was refusing to listen to their concerns.
"They chose not to meet with us, so we decided to come to them," said Darcie Cimarusti of Highland Park. "I don't understand why they won't listen to us."
The department said in a statement that they "take seriously all public comment that we receive in the review process."
"We welcome an open, honest, and productive dialogue about proposed charter applications," the statement said. "We encourage community members across the state to take an active role in public education in their communities."
In recent years, the charter school movement has taken off with little resistance from urban communities where the public schools are failing.
But as attempts are made to establish charter schools in the suburbs, a rising tide of opposition and resentment has emerged. Charter schools are independently run but receive public funds, taking money away from public schools.