Almost three-quarters of a century since the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education Supreme Court decision ended de jure racial segregation in schools, American schools remain largely segregated by race, family income, and ethnicity. De facto school segregation is a particular problem in urban areas in the Northeast and on the west coast. New York State has the highest rate of African American students in high-minority schools, Illinois is second, and New Jersey schools are also highly segregated.
A 2017 study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project reported that New Jersey schools had a “severe segregation of black and Hispanic students” and was headed for a “segregated future” with “severe racial stratification and division.” It stated that the schools “are not serving their historical function of bringing newcomers and excluded groups into the mainstream of the society.” The report described the situation New Jersey schools as “triple segregation” because children were segregated by race, economic class, and linguistic proficiency.
In New Jersey, the Freehold Borough and Freehold Township schools districts are neighbors, but their student populations are very different. In the Freehold Borough School District, which has two elementary schools and a middle school, more than 80% of the students are Black and Hispanic. In Freehold Township, more than 75% of the students are white. In the Borough schools 89% of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals and 20% are English language learners. The Borough spends $16,224 per student each year. The Township district has five elementary schools and two middle schools. In the Township schools, 12.5 are eligible for free or reduced price meals and 1.5% are English language learners. The Township spends $20,780 per student each year, over $4,000 a year more than is spent on students in Borough schools.
And these two neighboring districts are not alone. Statewide, between 2015 to 2016 and 2019 to 2020, 47% of Black and Latino students attended schools that were 90% non-white and 64% of Black and Latino students attended schools that were 75% non-white. Meanwhile, most white students attend schools that have predominately white student populations.
The situation in New Jersey schools could change as a 2018 lawsuit is finally being heard and could force major changes in policies that maintain racial segregation. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Latino Action Network, New Jersey NAACP, Urban League of Essex County and nine minor students. The plaintiffs are supported by the Rutgers University Inclusion Project (TIP).
Christian Estevez, president of Latino Action Network and the lead plaintiff in the case “grew up surrounded by a sea of boarded-up houses” in Plainfield, Union County after whites fled the community. His ‘classrooms were full of students who were drowning.” The Latino Action Network claims that segregation by race and poverty in the state’s public schools and charter schools violates New Jersey’s constitution.
New Jersey education officials argue that the state should not be held liable for school segregation because external forces are beyond the state’s control. Elise Boddie, the main lawyer representing the plaintiffs, responds that the lawsuit is not about assigning blame, but about addressing a “longstanding problem” rooted in an inherited redlining communities to keep them racially segregated.
Speakers at a March 31, 2022 rally outside the Trenton Justice Complex included local high school students. According to Kasai Sanchez, a junior at Teaneck High School in Bergen County, “If we shut the door, we are only encouraging a non-inclusive society . . . We have left students to create their own bias, and we have done them a disservice deliberately without true diversity, without true inclusion, racial and ethnic prejudices will only exist, grow and progress.”
Morgan Blair, a junior at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, Union County, reported, “There are so many biases throughout all of our classrooms. My teachers look down on me, [they] email my parents saying, ‘Oh, she needs to pay more attention to her homework,’ when all my homework is right there; you’re just not helping me.”
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