Organizers expect 1,000 Newark families to keep their children out of the city's public schools Thursday in a boycott over changes in the district, which has become a flashpoint in the debate over how to better educate inner-city children.
Other parents and caregivers sent their children to school despite being frustrated with a new enrollment system that was designed to increase choice but that they say is creating transportation headaches.
"I really wanted a different school for them," said Lydia Villars as she dropped off two grandsons and a niece at Peshine Avenue School on Thursday. "Things are very bad right now."
The children used to attend a school within walking distance from their home, but now she says she has to drive them several miles to a school that was not one of her top choices.
Other caregivers told of taking multiple buses and having the children scattered at multiple schools.
"What she did to the school system is messed up," said Thelma Gordon, referring to school Superintendent Cami Anderson, who greeted children Thursday at Peshine, where teal and silver balloons floated around school entrances.
Gordon said her three grandchildren were placed in three schools, including Peshine. On a typical morning, she said, she'll have to take three buses to get them to their classes.
Anderson said the problem is one of supply and demand.
Only about 20 schools out of 100 in the city are considered desirable.
Her new system, known as One Newark, asked families to give priorities for which schools their students would attend among traditional public schools and taxpayer-funded charters.
She said the change means that there will be more equity in getting students, including those from the lowest-income families and with learning disabilities, into better-performing schools.
But it also means changes in where students go.
Anderson said it's simpler than the old system, where some parents waited in long lines to try to get their children registered in the most desired schools. Like before, about 70 percent of the district's 43,000 students are in schools within a mile of home and about 80 percent of siblings are still attending the same schools, Anderson said.
She said the new system will make more sense as schools improve and families will not have to choose as often between schools close to home and better-performing ones.
"Our goal is to get to the day when every school is this coveted," she said.
The One Newark system is the subject of a federal civil rights complaint, and Mayor Ras Baraka has been railing against it, saying residents didn't have enough input. Baraka, a former high school principal, also wants the school district, now run by the state government, returned to full local control for the first time since 1995.
Boycotters said they were setting up "Freedom Schools" to teach children whose parents are protesting. The boycott is expected to last at least until next week.