District Responds to ACLU/UCLA Civil Rights Complaint

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South Orange-Maplewood Acting Superintendent of Schools James Memoli has responded to a complaint filed October 10 alleging that academic tracking and the frequent use of out-of-school suspension by the School District of South Orange and Maplewood violates the Department of Education’s regulations interpreting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In an email, Memoli stated:

While we cannot comment specifically on active litigation, we can assure the community that SOMSD is fully committed to our core values that  “demography should not be destiny, academically or otherwise,” and that “all students deserve the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.”  We have taken many steps over the past seven years to address the academic achievement gap, and while we have seen some progress, there is much more work in front of us.  We are eager to partner with anyone who can help us accelerate our work to achieve our mission “To prepare each and every student, regardless of demographic or socioeconomic background, for postsecondary educational success.”

District Director of Strategic Communications Suzanne Turner said that she believes Memoli plans to address the filing in his update at the next Board of Education meeting on October 20.

On Friday, October 10, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of New Jersey, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA filed the complaint against the South Orange-Maplewood School District with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The complaint asks for an investigation into the district’s disciplinary policies and academic tracking standards vis-a-vis race, and charges that “the school district’s tracking and discipline practices disproportionately confine students of color to lower-level classes and punish students of color and students with disabilities to a greater degree.”

The lengthy complaint cites school district statistics regarding out-of-school suspensions. It also contains case histories of two specific students who are identified by their initials only.

The complaint asks for remedies including replacing tracking with a “standard curriculum for students of all levels, with supplementary instruction for students who need it,” and “reserving out-of-school suspension for only the most extreme cases of harm, focusing instead on dealing with behavior directly.”

The complaint is brought under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Read the full complaint here: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/ocr_complaint_vs_somsd.pdf

Four years ago, the local chapter of the NAACP considered filing suit against the district regarding leveling but did not act on a resolution.

Walter Fields of the group SOMA Parents of Students of African Descent Workshop has been involved in the process of forming the ACLU/UCLA complaint. Fields told The Village Green, that the district’s attempts atreducing levels have been “insufficient given how extensive levels are in the school district.”

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