Members of the Coalition to Defend the Lincoln Annex School held a march yesterday to speak out against the potential sale of the school to build the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJUH) Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. The march led to the Rutgers University Board of Governors meeting, where members of the coalition asked the University to reconsider the sale.
The march began at the site of the Lincoln Annex School, where the students, their parents and other members of the New Brunswick community joined with Rutgers students and professors.
Maria Chiquito is the parent of a Lincoln Annex School student and said the school should not be torn down because there are so few schools in the neighborhood to begin with. She said she is concerned how students will get to a replacement school, whether it be the Warehouse School or the proposed new school on Jersey Avenue.
“A lot of the parents don't have the money to pay for taxi cabs every single day because the district (is not) going to give us transportation,” Chiquito said. “Almost all of the kids walk from home to school every single day.”
Gabriella Guerriero, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she came to the event because it is important to defend the educational rights of minority students within New Brunswick.
“For (their education) to come so easily under the hands of the forces that be like the hospital, like Rutgers, it's just really scary,” Guerriero said. “I think a lot of Rutgers students separate themselves from the community but this school was … two blocks from campus.”
Lilia Fernandez, associate professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and History, spoke to the coalition at the rally.
“We are here to send a message to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, to all the millionaire executives of these institutions, to all the people, the leaders of this city who think that our children are disposable and expendable and can be sent to a warehouse and a contaminated, toxic site,” Fernandez said. “Why? Because they’re brown? Because they’re immigrants? Because they’re poor?”
After multiple parents and community members spoke outside the school, the Coalition marched past RWJUH, City Hall and through downtown New Brunswick and the College Avenue campus. The New Brunswick Police Department blocked off multiple streets for the march to pass through, including parts of George Street.
Participants held signs in support of the school and chanted in both English and Spanish. The march ended in front of Winants Hall, where more community members spoke on the steps prior to entering the Board of Governors meeting, which reached maximum capacity.
Damaris Sanchez said she came to the meeting because her son is a Lincoln Annex School student. She said New Brunswick should work on improving other schools rather than close the Lincoln Annex School because it is one of the most successful academically.
“My son, his grades are perfect, he has A pluses. He's in a high level thanks to this school, thanks to the teachers,” Sanchez said.
The meeting featured a variety of speakers from the community, most of whom asked the University to change the location of the Cancer Institute. Jerry Mercado, a Rutgers alumnus running for the New Brunswick Board of Education, said the plans should be reconsidered.
“The Cancer Institute expansion is a great project for our community — hopefully it’ll bring jobs to the residents of New Brunswick — and obviously for the cancer patients,” Mercado said. “But it should not be on the backs of the children of Lincoln Annex School, which some of them are here today.”
Juan González, professor of Professional Practice in Journalism and Media Studies, said the University should have discussed these plans with the community rather than make arrangements with the city and the hospital in private.
“These are low-income, immigrant families, 94 percent of them Latino, who are being falsely pitted against the needs of cancer patients. The mayor even produced a slick video this week claiming that this project is urgent because ‘cancer can’t wait,’” Gonzalez said. “If it is so urgent, why has there still not been a single meeting of the Board of Education with parents to discuss plans for closing the school?”
Gonzalez said Robert Wood Johnson’s 11 hospitals only fill approximately 72 percent of their beds, which he said shows the hospital’s plans for expansion are likely motivated by greed, not urgency.
David Hughes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and the treasurer of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, said RWJUH should not be the University’s priority.
“We are an institution of education. We are not, first and foremost, a healthcare corporation,” Hughes said. “Why would we go and kneecap the school right beyond our boundary, which is sending kids, the small number that can afford to come here, but still, sending kids to learn from us, the faculty here?”
Hughes said purchasing the school is insulting to the New Brunswick community and criticized Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy for allowing these plans to be made. He compared the Board of Governors to “cancer” themselves.
“I cannot stand to work for a University that is going to disrespect the community around (us),” Hughes said. “We are a public university. What do we stand for if we are going to destroy a school?”
Reynalda Cruz, a member of the New Labor organization, said one of her children used to attend the Warehouse School and had a negative experience.
“I am here to let you know … not to play with the education of the children, that the children are the future,” Cruz said. “Like my son was affected, all (the Lincoln Annex School) children are going to be affected, and all of you can make the change. You can save the school.”
Charlie Kratovil, the editor of New Brunswick Today, said many of the Board members likely do not know what the site of the replacement school looks like. The Daily Targum previously reported that the proposed site of the replacement school is located in an industrial area with toxic chemicals.
“It's a contaminated site. It's not owned by Rutgers, or the Board of (Education) or the city. It's privately held and hasn't even been acquired yet,” Kratovil said. “Please visit the site, 131 Jersey Ave., and ask yourself if your children belong there.”
The Board of Governors did not respond to any of the speakers before adjourning for a closed session, which prompted members of the public to begin chanting against the sale of the school as the Board members exited the room.
The University issued a statement after the meeting, which said the proposal to expand RWJUH and purchase the Lincoln Annex School requires approval from the New Brunswick city governing boards and the New Brunswick Board of Education.
“While Rutgers is not the project developer, the University fully supports an outcome that will address the educational needs of families in our community by providing them with a state-of-the-art elementary school as quickly as possible and with as little disruption as possible, and an outcome that provides the community with high-quality clinical care the hospital expansion will bring to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and beyond,” the statement said.
Haydi Torres, a community activist with the Cosecha movement, said during the meeting that the plans to sell the Lincoln Annex School show an overall disregard for immigrant communities.
“You think that because we're immigrants, because we speak Spanish, because we're not fluent (in English), because we are poor, because we are here, we're not going to fight? We're going to fight like hell for our communities,” Torres said.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article referred to Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy as the Interim Chancellor.