N.J. district beschuldigd van segregatie schikt rechtszaak, zal integreren onder toezicht van federale monitor – NJ.comjuli 18, 2020
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A North Jersey suburban school district accused of allowing racial segregation of schools and classrooms has agreed to a settlement that will see its integration efforts overseen by a retired New Jersey Supreme Court justice.
The deal was announced in separate statements Tuesday by the plaintiffs, the Black Parents Workshop Inc., and the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
While the Black Parents Workshop — a group launched in 2014 by parents of district students — lauded the agreement as a historic victory that will force change in a troubled district, school officials called it a resolution that “recognizes the strides the district has already made under the leadership of Superintendent Ronald G. Taylor, while incorporating proposals for further improvement offered by BPW.”
Attorney Robert L. Tarver Jr. filed suit on behalf of the Black Parents Workshop in 2018, arguing that the district’s decades-old practice of tracking and leveling — grouping students in tiered classes based on test scores or perceived abilities — systematically discriminated against Black students, who were generally placed in lower level classes. In 2014, the district reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to fix the racial disparities in advanced level courses, but the BPW argued the disparity persisted.
The lawsuit also accused the district of allowing de facto segregation because five neighborhood elementary schools are majority white and one is predominantly Black. It also pointed out racial disparities in discipline handed down and a lack of diversity among faculty and leaders.
As part of the settlement agreement, the district will implement integration plans and related recommendations by educational expert and Temple University professor Edward Fergus, which will be monitored by former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr.
The district also agreed to improve recruitment of minority teachers, to publicly report class enrollment, suspensions and expulsions by race and gender, to fill a new position of assistant superintendent for equity and access who will work toward agreed upon goals, and to get state verification that it has fully implemented the state-mandated Amistad Black History curriculum.
The settlement also involves payments to the plaintiffs, including several Black students and a white student with ADHD, as well as at least some of their legal fees. The district said this will be paid by its insurance carrier. Both parties declined to specify the amounts.
The district of approximately 7,100 students was 55% white, 27% Black, 8% Latino and 4% Asian, according to state data for 2018-2019.
“The board voted unanimously to approve this settlement as it helps us move closer to delivering upon the as yet unrealized promise of the access and equity policy passed in 2015,” Board of Education President Annemarie Maini said in a statement.
Walter Fields, founder of BPW, said in a statement that it should not have taken a lawsuit to force the changes, but he hopes the agreement is the start of a real collaboration between the school and the parent group.
“This is not the end, but the beginning of a process to inculcate equity in this district,” said Fields. “It is our expectation that a real effort will now be put forth to close the unacceptable racial achievement gap in this school district. The real work now begins.”
Part of that work involves not just eliminating the racial bias that sees students of color discouraged from taking more challenging courses at Columbia High School, but implementing programs and supports to facilitate their enrollment and success, Fields said.
And while the school no longer uses the tiered levels, instead offering only regular and honors classes, Fields said the group still believes that some form of tracking is still going on.
“We believe that because of implicit bias Black students are still being relegated to lower level courses,” he said.
For instance, district statistics show Black students are still underrepresented in AP calculus. Black enrollment has gone from a high of 28% in 2017-2018 to 19% in the 2019-2020 school year. White students, who make up 52% of the school, account for 71% of AP calculus enrollment.
“This doesn’t just exist in South Orange and Maplewood. It’s about the new arrangement in suburban districts,” Fields said. “When you go beyond the front door, they’re racially segregated by class.”
To address segregation in the schools, the Board of Education in June approved the district’s Intentional Integration Initiative. It calls for an algorithm to help reassign new students to schools based on things like race, parental income and education level, neighborhood proximity and sibling preference. The district proposes beginning the process with kindergarten students in the fall of 2021, followed by incoming 6th graders at the middle schools the following year.
Fields said his group believes that gradual integration, which avoids moving students from one school to another, is an unnecessary delay, and the schools should be completely integrated by fall of 2021.
“That’s something we intend to broach with the court and the monitor,” he said.
The public reporting of discipline broken down by race and gender is also an important part of the agreement, the BPW said in a statement.
In 2015, Black students made up 33% of the district’s population but received 70% of all suspensions, including a total of 510 days of out-of-school suspensions. White students, who that year made up 52% of the district, received 20% of suspensions. They missed 92 days for out-of-school suspensions.
That’s according to a statistical analysis by Ryan W. Coughlan, a Molloy College education professor who studies school segregation and was hired by the BPW to author a report on inequity in the district. His report called the racial gap “appalling.”
Fields said he hopes the settlement might encourage others to seek similar equity changes in their schools.
“What we achieved in the South Orange-Maplewood School District is a template for school districts across the nation, in urban and suburban communities,” he said.
Staff reporter Noah Cohen contributed to this report.
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