While public education battles continue, there are case studies that are emblematic of community contradictions. Higher education, even publicly funded institutions, can exist in a world apart from the K-12 system.

The recent conflict between Rutgers University, which is attempting to take over New Brunswick’s Lincoln Annex School, located in a predominantly Latino community, is an example of ongoing education battles that involve different arenas, testing academia’s pro-public education rhetoric.

Rutgers University has a bold plan for a new Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Cancer Pavilion. This is a $750 million project seeking to commandeer the Lincoln Annex School property, a fully operative 4-8th grade public school (formerly St. Pete’s High School).

But parents, students, and other community members are opposing this plan at a time when New Jersey urban school districts are struggling to recover from state takeover. The battle in New Jersey public schools has been closely watched as the state innovated a model of control that took decades for districts to challenge. New Jersey also made national headlines for its rapid-fire charter plans that caused a wave of school closures.

Now, we see community schools, like Lincoln Annex, facing closure as the community draws from a strong local tradition of anti-school closure opposition.

Last week, the New Brunswick Board of Education held an unusual meeting that may have violated the Open Public Meetings Act. At the Feb. 27 meeting, a school board decision to limit comment time left many who had signed up to make comments after a Cancer Institute developers’ presentation unheard. Then, the meeting concluded with a closed vote in favor of the hospital development after the public departed the meeting.

According to The Daily Targum: “... many people were upset since they were promised a chance to address the board, as they had prepared remarks and sat through the meeting waiting for their turn...some of the individuals who spoke out against the time limit were ejected from the meeting.”

This anti-democratic maneuver causes great concern because the school board vote to approve developer plans leaves little option for Lincoln Annex students and family members.

Project leaders DEVCO say a new “...$55 million school will be built at no cost to the New Brunswick Board of Education…it will have better conditions than what is currently at the Lincoln Annex School.”

Community members have complained that the new school site is troubling since it is located on a former industrial site that is contaminated. People much prefer the current location, since the school was “recently built, has modern facilities, is well-liked by the community and serves a majority of Latinx students.”

Community members are represented by the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex School, which has hired Columbia University’s LatinoJustice to litigate the case — if necessary.

The Coalition has a strong legal case, since it appears that the School Board-owned Lincoln Annex property had a deed restriction placed on the property before the school board bought it in 2013. The restriction states the property must be used as a “public school or administration building for 50 years.”

Legal limits complicate the planned 510,000-square-foot, seven-story hospital development.

While the school board may have planned to sneak this sale past local community members, it is not proving to be so easy. Students and their families want to stay put, and it appears the law may be on their side in this instance.

Meanwhile, Rutgers University has turned a blind eye to the illegalities involved, and those opposing the planned hospital development are making national news as a coalition well-prepared to defend its school from relocation to a toxic “brown site” that is a far cry from its desired current location.

As public school closure threats continue across the country, this New Brunswick, New Jersey, battle will be watched closely.