The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has dominated headlines, leaving little room for much else. This allows politicians and other institutions of power to sneak their underhanded, controversial decisions in now, when the media is less likely to fixate on them.
This is not the first time we have begun a recent editorial with that sentiment. That should go to show how common the act of “disaster capitalism” has become. Defined by scholar and Rutgers professor Naomi Klein as “wait(ing) for a crisis … declar(ing) a moment of what is sometimes called ‘extraordinary politics’ … and then ram(ming) the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible.” Disaster capitalism has dangerous implications for vulnerable communities around the world.
This time around, the villains are the New Brunswick Board of Education, who, while working with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, has proceeded with its potential purchase of the Lincoln Annex School.
The plan comes with a replacement school. Despite this, opposition has been firm, with protests taking place across campus in response to a move that will be damaging to local families, destabilizing to children and generally neglectful of community needs. It is a move that puts the desire for corporate profit and clout in front of the desires and wishes of the community around them.
The Daily Targum reported earlier this semester that parents with children in the district have organized in swift opposition to this move for many of those reasons. One such parent is Maria Chiquito, who cites that distance is a factor for this resistance.
“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 ... Almost all of the kids walk from home to school every single day," Chiquito said, according to the article.
The fact is, the Board knew that what it was doing was reprehensible. It opted to move during the pandemic, knowing that it could use the veil of disaster to cover its negligent and self-serving processes. In fact, Board of Education Vice President Dale Caldwell used this pandemic not only as a cover for this atrocious act, but also as a reason.
“(Caldwell) said the ongoing (COVID-19) health crisis should make people more open to the idea of constructing a Cancer Institute,” according to the Targum.
So not only is the Board of Education cowardly hiding behind COVID-19 headlines to enact this equally cowardly plan, but it is also preying on people’s emotions surrounding the virus during this trying time. Cancer and infectious diseases are certainly not equivalent, and trying to equate them is a flimsy attempt to capitalize on the public’s fear amid this crisis.
Worse yet, the Board of Education is using the crisis to not fulfill Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for vital information regarding this decision. That information includes “the names of the members on the Long-Range Facilities Plan Committee that were appointed to review the plans for the replacement school,” according to the Targum. Juan González, professor of Professional Practice in Journalism and Media Studies, requested those names and has been repeatably denied by the Board.
“González requested the names of the members through the OPRA on March 10, the Targum reported, and Board of Education Business Administrator Richard Jannarone told him at the time that the request could not be fulfilled until March 25 due to the COVID-19 crisis … Jannarone said the request is still unfulfilled because it would require someone to go to the office,” according to the Targum.
The Board of Education is clearly unwilling to release information to the public "due" to the COVID-19 outbreak, yet it was still able to go forward with a plan containing huge implications. It seems awfully convenient.
We all know — now that the COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly sent us off-campus — how damaging a sudden change in an educational environment can be to our academics, and now these elementary students, from families already so disadvantaged due to Rutgers’ actions, face that same prospect this fall. It is going to harm these children, and it is going to harm their families.
Rutgers believes it is entitled to New Brunswick as a whole, and this is unequivocally not true. We cannot enable this idea any further, but there is only so much we can do. Flooding the Board of Education with OPRA requests is a good start, and spreading the word in any way possible is a good way to follow that up.
This is our last editorial for the 2019-20 school year, and clearly there are always issues at Rutgers and in New Brunswick that need dissecting. Injustice permeates all across the world, and as we have elaborated so many times prior, systematic inequities do not stop for pandemics.
Going into the summer, do not put your respective fight on pause, because the powers that impose on us certainly are not giving up theirs.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.