School segregation lawsuit settled between NJ district, Black students advocates

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MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — An advocacy group for Black students is celebrating a legal victory in New Jersey in a lawsuit based on what they call “a pattern of policies and practices that have discriminated against African American students.”

The Black Parents Workshop reached a settlement with the South Orange-Maplewood school district Monday. The group accused the district of having “maintained and supported a de facto segregated system of K-5 elementary schools, while segregating students by race in Columbia High School due to the tracking of students and their placement in ‘levels’ that have produced gross racial disparities in academic achievement.”

The settlement — which was unanimously approved by the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education — will be monitored by retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr. It includes several mandates that the district must follow, including:

  • The hiring of an equity scholar to develop a student reassignment plan to integrate elementary schools by fall 2021
  • Input for the Black Parents Workshop on the integration plan’s development
  • Public reports of class enrollment by race and gender in grades 6-12
  • Public reporting of suspensions and expulsions by race and gender
  • A new assistant superintendent for equity and access to monitor the district’s progress
  • Verification from the state that the district is in compliance
  • Working with HBCUs to identify Black teacher candidates for the district
  • The district paying plaintiffs and the Black Parents Workshop’s legal fees.

Leaders for the Black Parents Workshop were optimistic but not yet satisfied.

“This is a historic victory for Black students and families in the communities of South Orange and Maplewood,” said BPW founder and Chairman of Legal and Policy Committee Walter Fields said in a statement. “It is one of the rare instances in the nation when the grievances of Black students have been litigated and resolved in a manner that addresses patterns and practices that have undermined Black students’ success. However, it should not have taken a lawsuit for this school district to agree to the measures in this settlement.”

Fields emphasized that this was progress but more needs to be done.

“We do commend the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education for coming to terms on the issues we raised and hope we are entering a new phase of cooperation and collaboration in the spirit of providing all children an excellent education,” he added. “This is not the end, but the beginning of a process to inculcate equity in this district.”

The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education’s leader says they’re happy to move forward in tandem with the Black Parents Workshop.

“We welcome the opportunity to put this litigation behind us and move forward together as a district and community, working to live our creed of service and to truly embody our mission to empower and inspire each student to explore and imagine, to pursue personal passions and to collectively create a better future,” said Superintendent Ronald G. Taylor in a statement.

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