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Newark Schools Open, But Some Parents Boycott Over New Enrollment Program

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Organizers say they expected 1,000 Newark families to keep their children out of the city's public schools Thursday in a boycott over the city's new enrollment system.

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.''

Newark Schools Open, But Some Parents Boycott Over New Enrollment Program

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.

This year, Newark schools launched the One Newark plan, offering open enrollment so families could choose where their kids attend.

But for many parents, the registration process was a disaster. Highly sought-after schools filled up quickly, and many waited up to eight hours in line only to be assigned to schools they did not want or ones that were far from home.

Newark Schools Open, But Some Parents Boycott Over New Enrollment Program

"Not even taking into consideration that parents may work, may not be able to take the child to that other ward or school," said parent Melissa McLean.

"It's a mess," said parent Noemi Gonzalez. "The system is horrible."

"When they did the intake, they informed me that my daughter had no school availability in the city of Newark at all," said parent Darren Martin.

Schools advocate Donna Jackson urged parents to keep their kids home through Wednesday.

"This process has disenfranchised families across the city of Newark," she told 1010 WINS' Rebecca Granet.

Jackson said busing students across the city puts a strain on some parents.

"If I live right here and my kid gets on a yellow bus and goes all the way on the other side of town 5 miles away from me and I don't drive and there is an emergency, I can't get to my kid," she said.

Dozens of parents went to an emergency meeting Tuesday, demanding help.

Superintendent Cami Anderson said the problem is one of supply and demand. Only about one in four schools in the city are considered desirable, she told WCBS 880's Jim Smith earlier this week.

Anderson said the complaints this year of students being assigned across town or siblings being split up are not new and said about the same percentage of students is traveling more than a mile to school as last year.

"It's a challenge that predates this current enrollment system," she said.

Anderson 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.

About 200 students didn't have school assignments Thursday, Anderson told WCBS 880's Levon Putney.

That created confusion for Bazoo Aibaigbee at Hawthorne Elementary School.

"My son is in school, but my daughter is not," he said. "So how can that be?"

The mixup was eventually resolved, and both of Aibaigbee's children were admitted.

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.

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