Choosing as their filing date the anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that banned racial segregation in schools, a lawsuit was filed against the state of New Jersey that calls for statewide desegregation of its public schools.
The suit is led by a new nonprofit organization, the New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools, chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein. It is joined by the Latino Action Network, the New Jersey NAACP, and other organizations as well as individual parents who have joined as plaintiffs.
Their data is compelling: A 2017 study from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found New Jersey’s schools to be among the most segregated in the nation. The term “apartheid” was used in reference to the housing patterns and the separation of students by race in New Jersey schools.
The lawsuit cites statistics to show that without legal action, segregation has only deepened. The number of New Jersey public school students who attend schools that are at least 99 percent nonwhite, for example, grew to 107,322 in the 2016-17 school year, from 93,614 in 2010-11.…Statewide, 46 percent of the 585,000 black and [Latinx] public-school students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite. Of the 622,359 white students in New Jersey public schools, 43 percent attend schools that are at least 75 percent white.
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The lawsuit, filed this past week, references this data and challenges state laws that enshrine these patterns. The de facto segregation of schools, the suit claims, in New Jersey stems from state laws that require children to attend schools in the municipalities where they live. The suit also challenges the law that gives priority in charter school enrollment to children who live within the district where the charter school is located. Both of these elements limit where children can go to school and keep racial boundaries intact.
The suit offers a number of suggestions for integrating the schools and asks the state education commissioner to develop a comprehensive plan. Options offered include consolidation of school districts, regional magnet schools, or voluntary transfer programs that allow students in predominantly minority districts to attend other schools. There could be other possibilities, as the suit moves forward and other parties weigh in.
The issue of integrated schools and children’s learning has been debated and is for the most part settled.
Children who attend integrated schools do better than those who remain in segregated schools, research shows. And while the benefits of desegregation are most profound for black and [Latinx] low-income students, diversity also helps white students by exposing them to children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and broadening their perspectives.
NPQ has addressed the issues of New Jersey’s schools, particularly efforts to change things in Newark, in the past, and this effort with its combined strength of nonprofits, families and the legal system seems to have promise.—Carole Levine