Yesterday, Walter Fields of SOMA Black Parents Workshop announced the organization’s intention to file a lawsuit against the South Orange-Maplewood School District, citing “violations of federal and state laws, including Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Article I, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution.”
Fields contends that the district has not met the standards stipulated in a resolution between the district and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights announced in October 2014. Read that resolution here.
The suit follows on the release of the “Update on Office of Civil Rights Consent Agreement” report at the October Board of Education that detailed that little meaningful progress has been made on increasing enrollment of students of color in higher level classes despite the passage two years ago of a sweeping Access & Equity policy.
“We are basing these claims upon the district’s failure to comply with a Resolution Agreement it signed with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and data the school district released on October 16, 2017 that demonstrates its failure to end the discriminatory practices OCR cited in its initial investigation,” said Fields in a statement released to media.
“The district was given three years to put in place a substantive plan to close the racial achievement gap and it has not done so. Over the last three years another cohort of African-American students has been ill-served by this district and denied the education to which they are legally entitled. After twenty plus years of these practices, the time has come for the South Orange-Maplewood School District to be held fully accountable for these unacceptable educational outcomes.”
Materials provided by Fields also included a letter from Black Parents Workshop counsel Robert Tarver asserting that two African-American students had been denied access to upper level classes at the start of the school year in September. The district previously replied to the letter, saying that it had met students requests to be placed in Honors classes, despite the requests being made after the start of the school year. Read more here.
Fields also included a November 2015 letter of recommendation authored by Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron and addressed to the University of Pittsburgh on behalf of his daughter Jordan who was applying to the School of Engineering. The letter details difficulties Jordan faced in being placed in advanced math classes and being provided support once there. Aaron writes, “As part of the resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights, the district has acknowledged and agreed to address any patterns of exclusion or practice at the classroom, building or district level of excluding African-American students from upper level and AP mathematics classes.”
Fields had taken part in a separate complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of New Jersey, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA against the South Orange-Maplewood School District with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in October 2014.
Read Fields’ full statement and other materials presented at yesterday’s press conference announcing the suit below.