Two Rebellions in Lakewood: Latinx Parents Fight For Their Children While the Board Contests School Quality Scores.

“The board has no interest and shows no respect for us,” Norma Morales, mother of two Lakewood schools students, said in Spanish. “I feel very disappointed for how disrespectful they are, for how they treat us.”

“We want to expose the abuse of power and the irregularities happening in our schools,” Ana Benito, mother of two Lakewood schools students, said in Spanish. “They’re not doing their job, and our children don’t have teachers and are missing the opportunity of a quality education.

These are the voices of brave Latinx Lakewood parents who are unceasing in their efforts to be heard by the Lakewood Board of Education and Board leader/attorney Michael Inzelbuch. Even after the Board suddenly passed a new policy requiring photo ID’s* — not always available to the parents who are undocumented — they continue to come to Board meetings and plead for a better education for their children, who comprise 89% of Lakewood public school students.

And they continue to be ignored.

Imagine yourself a Lakewood parent of  two students, one a third-grader and one a ninth-grader. Your younger child attends Oak Street Elementary School where three out of four third-graders fail the  English Language Arts (ELA) assessment and two out of three fail the third-grade math test.  Your high schooler attends Lakewood High School where 23% of students meet expectations in ELA 10, a requirement for a high school diploma, and hardly anyone meets expectations for Algebra 1, another diploma requirement. (There’s an asterisk on the DOE School Performance Report — “Data is not displayed in order to protect student privacy” — which means so few students passed the test that the field is left blank.) 

The district you must send your children to — you don’t have the resources to exercise NJ’s most popular form of school choice by moving to another district —  is laser-focused on the 30,000+ non-public students who attend ultra-Orthodox yeshivas instead of the 6,000 (87% economically-disadvantaged and 90% Latinx) public school students.

What is the state of Lakewood Public Schools? Every three years districts are monitored by the Department of Education through a process called the  “Quality Single Accountability Continuum.” QSAC divides its evaluation of districts into five fields: Instruction and Program; Personnel; Fiscal Management; Operations; and Governance. Each section is worth a maximum of 100 points and you have to get 80 points to pass. In the most recent one I could find, dated 2017,  Lakewood failed Instruction & Program (student achievement) with a score of 54%,  Fiscal Management (how the district handles funding) with a score of 56%, and Governance (how the Board operates) with a score of 66%. (SEE UPDATE BELOW for the Board’s successful appeal in two of the three areas.)

 Districts that fail QSAC have to create a Corrective Action Plan and are monitored more frequently. Here’s Lakewood’s 2018 Corrective Action Plan. One of the actions demanded by the state was that the district create a bilingual Child Study Team.

Isn’t it obvious in a district where almost 90% of students are Latinx and about 80% speak Spanish at home that a district committed to properly serving children with special needs needs a bilingual Child Study? Did Lakewood really need the State to point that out?

Yet the Board (run by Michael Inzelbuch, the attorney who makes $600,000+++ a year just from his in-district work**) didn’t consider a bilingual Child Study Team worth funding until the State insisted on its necessity.

No wonder those parents, led by Alejandra Morales, the president of La Voz which advocates for the Latinx community in Lakewood, are protesting, despite the Board’s efforts to discourage them from coming to Board meetings. The Asbury Park Press reports that parents who attempted to come to the last two meetings were “subjected to searches at the door” and “hassled” when they showed their consular identification or Mexican voter registration cards. 

“The parents told the Press they showed up en masse seeking answers about busing services for their children, teacher credentials and certifications, among other matters. Instead, they found an increased police presence and no opportunity to ask questions.”

But, remember, these parents are brave. And now they’re angry at the Board’s attempt to shut them down. So last week 60 of them took a day off from work and went to Trenton to try to get Gov. Phil Murphy’s attention. He didn’t meet with them but someone from “Constituent Services Office.” spoke to Alejandra Morales and Enrique Hernández.

“This is worth doing. Money isn’t everything,” Gerardo Magaña, a construction worker and parent of two Lakewood schools students, said in Spanish. “I came to this country to fight for my children and I want them to realize how important they are for me.”

“The battle has just begun, the real battle of  finally taking our voice outside Lakewood Township,” Morales said in Spanish. “We understand they could not meet with us, but we came here as an emergency measure after what happened last night.”

“This is not over because the board hides information we should know,” said Enrique Hernández, father of four Lakewood schools students. “We will come back … (at the Thursday meeting) with plenty of questions because we care about our children’s education.”

According to the Press, Michael Inzelbuch declined to comment.

*On the Lakewood district homepage is this announcement:

Important Announcement – BOE Meetings.  Please note that updated security procedure requires that any person attending the Board of Education meetings provide a valid form of identification to security personnel for entrance.

In addition, any person that would like to speak and address the Board of Education during the “Recognition of the Public “ portion of the meeting must sign-in between 6:00 pm and no later than 7:30 pm. No additions will be added the Recognition of the Public after 7:30 pm.

**Senate President Steve Sweeney has said that Inzelbuch’s salary is “outrageous.”

QSAC Update: Over the weeekend Michael Inzelbuch kindly sent me documents relating to the district’s appeal to the DOE regarding their QSAC scores. These include a letter from Superintendent Laura Winters, an update on Lakewood’s Corrective Plan, and the conclusions of an independent auditor. In response, Paula Bloom of the DOE Field Services Division, in a letter dated August 30th, revised the scores upward: the Instruction & Program section is upgraded from 54 points to 77 points (three points shy of a passing grade) and, remarkably, Governance went from 66 points to 100 points. (Not sure what to make of this abrupt reversal from the DOE; another sign, perhaps, of its own dysfunction, as well as Commissioner Repollet’s distaste for accountability.)

On September 3d, Dr. Winters sent a letter to Paula Bloom contesting the Fiscal Management score, which the district considers to be a 96, not 56. She writes, “During the District’s mid-year review on January 17, 2019, [Business Administrator] Robert S. Finger was informed that he would be contacted about the QSAC Interim Review process for which he had prepared for during the Winter break. However, that meeting never took place, nor was District Administration ever contacted…In fact, the District was not contacted in regard to any Fiscal Management indicators.”


One other piece of noteworthy Lakewood news: The Asbury Park Press reports this:

It was one, brief play in a long, tough season. But it made a lasting impression on 17-year-old Francisco Santillan.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker/running back on the Lakewood High School football team says that during a game last year, he made a hard tackle to end a play, then extended his hand to help the opposing player off the ground.

The player rebuffed him. “Don’t touch me, you dirty nigger,” Santillan, who is Latino, recalled him saying.

Players, coaches and top school officials in Lakewood say the episode wasn’t an isolated incident, an ugly, thoughtless remark in a violent sport defined by hard hits and raw emotions.

In exclusive interviews with the Asbury Park Press, they alleged that for years Lakewood athletes have been targets of racial and ethnic slurs and other offensive remarks and chants. Sometimes the comments are muttered on the field by opposing players, they say, other times they’re shouted by fans on the sidelines.

The comments include “nigger,” “spic,” “wetback” and “wall jumper,” coaches and players told the Press. One coach said he’s heard the chant, “We’re going to call I.C.E. on you,” a reference to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Nearly all of Lakewood’s high school athletes are Latino or black.

What do you think?

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