Legislators, Teachers and Advocates Demand Action Before State Board of Education
Education Law Center joined State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and a vocal group of teachers and advocates before the State Board of Education (SBOE) last week to let Board members know about the dreadful conditions at Trenton Central High School (TCHS).
The continued refusal of Governor Christie’s Administration to perform emergent repairs during the summer means the 1800 Trenton High School students and their teachers must suffer through another school year of dangerous conditions in the building.
In testimony to the SBOE, speakers lined up to describe in graphic detail the deterioration of the 80-year-old building and the threat it poses to the health and safety of students and staff.
The speakers blasted the State Department of Education and the Schools Development Authority (SDA) for ignoring repeated demands for emergent repairs of the high school, urging the SBOE to take action. Assemblywoman Watson Coleman said, “Your voice is needed to add to this debate.” TCHS alumnus and former Trenton Board of Education member, Algernon Ward, told the Board that it’s time for bureaucratic games to stop.
Assemblyman Gusciora described a recent tour of the building, where he saw significant water damage from leaky roofs, including warped classroom floors and black mold on the walls. Barbara Walden, who recently retired after teaching in the school district for 31 years, talked about mice and cockroaches infesting the building, and the strong stench of dead rodents.
These and other conditions were documented during an SDA assessment of the building in February 2012, and in an extensive report by the SDA in December 2012. A 2011 inspection found asbestos throughout the building.
“I am there every day. It is so bad, so foul and so vile that it would make every decent human being vomit,” said Nick Cirillo, a social studies teacher and coach of the debate team.
Other speakers addressed the impact of the deteriorating building on students and the learning process. Georgia Koenig, a TCHS graduate who now works with Urban Promise Trenton, said students often talk to her about the sorry state of the basement cafeteria and the bathrooms.
“The physical condition of the building doesn’t show that we put stock in kids’ education there,” she said.
“The facility undermines the spirit and motivation of students” said Andrew Bobbit, another TCHS alumnus and community activist. Mr. Bobbit also linked the condition of the facility to student illness, including asthma and bronchitis.
Mo Kinberg, Coordinator of the Healthy Schools Now campaign, provided testimony, as did Sharon Krengel, ELC Policy and Outreach Director. [Read ELC testimony here.]
“We’re here today to remind you that the constitutional right of Trenton students to a thorough and efficient education includes school facilities that are safe, healthy, and adequate to deliver the State’s rigorous learning standards,” said Ms. Krengel. ELC reminded the SBOE that under the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings and state statutes, the State Education Commissioner is responsible to ensure emergent repairs are funded and completed as quickly as possible.
“This Board has a responsibility to act to protect the health, safety and well being of the 1800 students now attending TCHS. You cannot expect these young people to receive the education they deserve – one that will prepare them for college and career – in such a degraded and potentially dangerous environment.” Ms. Krengel added. “We urge this Board to immediately issue a clear and firm directive to Commissioner Cerf to expedite all necessary repairs to Trenton Central High School and report back to you on the progress made.”
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