Groups sue New Jersey to force schools in the state to desegregate

May 18, 2018
The suit argues that a law requiring children to attend schools in the municipalities where they live had resulted in statewide school segregation.

On the 64th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional, several civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit to force the State of New Jersey to desegregate its schools.

The New York Times reports that the suit argues that school segregation in New Jersey stems from a complicated mixture of discriminatory zoning practices in suburbs, poverty and personal choice. But, the plaintiffs argue, segregation is institutionalized by a state law in New Jersey that requires children to attend schools in the municipalities where they live.

Because neighborhoods and towns in New Jersey are so segregated, that law results in segregated schools. So the suit asks the state to let children cross municipal lines to go to school. It also calls on the state education commissioner to develop a comprehensive, detailed plan suggesting ways to integrate schools.

“The promise of Brown is not being realized in New Jersey,” says Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, one of the groups that brought the suit. “If you look at a lot of the issues we are having right now in our society, it has a lot to do with the fact that people don’t know each other, and don’t interact with each other, and this creates misunderstanding and animosity. And so it’s important as a society, we think, that people be together, and that they learn side by side.”

Segregation has persisted, and worsened, in New Jersey because “no one has done anything about it,” says Gary Stein, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice who was part of the court when it ordered equal funding for the state's districts.

“Here in New Jersey, we have segregation that’s more intense than any state today in the South,” Stein says. “What we have got in New Jersey, frankly, is an embarrassment. We have segregation at a level that is just intolerable for a state like ours, and we have never addressed it.”

New Jersey’s governor, Philip D. Murphy, declined to comment on the suit itself, but his press secretary, Dan Bryan, says Murphy is “deeply committed” to desegregation.

Statewide, 46 percent of the 585,000 black and Latino 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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