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Members of New Brunswick community announce formation of Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex School

Members of the newly formed Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex School stood on the steps of City Hall to voice their opposition to the sale of the school. – Photo by Photo by Hayley Slusser | The Daily Targum

Parents, activists and other members of the New Brunswick community gathered outside of New Brunswick City Hall on Wednesday to announce the formation of the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex School. 

The Daily Targum previously reported Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) wants to buy the land occupied by the school to build the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Members of the public expressed concern about the displacement of Lincoln Annex School’s 750 students.

“Many parents and community members and allies have been meeting for several weeks now, talking about the issues that we’re confronting, and (we are) concerned about the plans for Lincoln Annex (School) and what is going to happen to the children of this community,” said Lilia Fernández, an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies.

The coalition announcement comes the day after New Brunswick Mayor James M. Cahill announced a plan to build a replacement school on Jersey Avenue, which would take approximately three years, according to the Targum. During that time, students would attend the Warehouse School, which is a renovated warehouse approximately two miles away.  

The coalition consists of various community groups, including Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, New Labor, Lazos America Unida, Movimiento Cosecha, New Brunswick Fifth and Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association, Newark Food and Water Watch, Proyecto Esperanza and the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT). 

The Targum previously reported student groups, including Rutgers University Student Assembly, Rutgers National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Residence Hall Association and RU Progressive, condemned the purchase of Lincoln Annex School. These groups have joined the coalition along with 14 other student organizations and councils. 

James Boyle, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Endowment Justice Collective and the Central Jersey Climate Coalition, spoke at the event and criticized the city and the University for the way they are treating the community. 

“I think it’s important to be clear who the culprits are in this case. It’s DEVCO, it’s RWJ, it’s the City Council, it’s the Board of Education and, yes, it’s Rutgers too,” Boyle said. “This situation seems to confirm what many people in New Brunswick already know: New Brunswick is putting the interests of its most powerful institutions over the city’s most vulnerable residents.”

Boyle said New Brunswick continues to develop the city for the benefit of the wealthy but fails to include or consider the majority of residents. He said Rutgers students will continue to stand in solidarity with the community.

Roberto De Santiago, a student at Paul Robeson Community School for the Arts, spoke to the crowd about the Warehouse School, which the Lincoln Annex School students may be forced to attend.

“Two years ago I went to (the Warehouse School) because there were renovations at my school. The experience wasn’t that good, the classrooms were small,” De Santiago said. “It was a warehouse, it was small and didn’t look like a school at all.”

Todd Wolfson, president of the AAUP-AFT and professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said the union is against Cahill’s plan and will work with the community to advocate for a better plan. 

“Parents don’t want to move and they don’t want their children to move in the first place, and we stand with them on that. But if they must move, they will not and shall not move — and we will fight it — until a new school is built,” Wolfson said. “A school in the Fifth Ward that has equal amenities and equal capacity that is convenient for students to get to.” 

The proposed location of the replacement school is outside of the neighborhood in the Fourth Ward, which Wolfson said is an example of the city pushing immigrant communities out. The site is also in an industrial area, which raises concerns over toxic chemicals. 

Following their announcement on the steps of New Brunswick City Hall, the members of the New Brunswick community went in to the City Council meeting to address their concerns.

Fernández was one of the speakers who spoke directly with members of the City Council.

“The city announced a former industrial site for the new school, in the same industrial area where the Warehouse School is located far from the current community,” Fernández said. “They are claiming that a lot of the residents live closer to that area and I don’t think that’s true.”

This used to be a factory site and the land is contaminated, she said. The site needs to be prepared by environmental remediation, which will further delay the construction of the new school.

“How does it make any kind of sense that the city and (RWJUH) are trying to displace children for a cancer center by sending them to a toxic and contaminated industrial site?” Fernández said.

Even though the new school is estimated to be finished within the next three years, Fernández said the remediation of a contaminated site has never moved that quickly.

She said she challenged the City Council on why it was so important for the new cancer institute building to be built immediately.

“They responded that it was an important project for them,” Fernández said. “The children’s education is important, too. If the site can be remediated and cleaned up quickly, then why can’t RWJ wait before they tear down Lincoln Annex School?”

Members of the City Council said that they can do both, clean up and remediate the site while RWJUH begins the construction of the cancer pavilion, and she said that was not acceptable.

“If any students who come out of New Brunswick schools make it to Rutgers or make it to college, they make it despite the of the educational conditions in New Brunswick, not (because of) them,” Fernández said.

With the community being surrounded by Rutgers and RWJUH, she said they should have the best schools in New Jersey. Students who make it to college make it on their own, not because the destructive system around them has helped them do so.

“I was pretty angry. I was shaking, to be honest with you,” Fernández said. “I just couldn’t believe that these people could sit there, looking at the community and residents, and act like they couldn’t find anything wrong with this picture.”

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