With permission of the national office, a local unit of the NAACP will be submitting an amicus brief in support of a suit by the Black Parents Workshop against the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
The Black Parents Workshop filed a lawsuit against the South Orange-Maplewood School District in February 2018, 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.”
In filing the suit in 2018, BPW leader Walter Fields contended that the district had 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 filing of the new suit followed on the release of the “Update on Office of Civil Rights Consent Agreement” report at the October 2017 Board of Education that detailed that little meaningful progress had been made on increasing enrollment of students of color in higher level classes despite the passage in 2015 of a sweeping Access & Equity policy.
Since the BPW suit was filed in 2018, the Board of Education has approved a $140M+ Long Range Facilities Plan that will make way for a plan to desegregate the district’s elementary schools. However, the timeline for the SOMSD 2020: Intentional Integration and Innovation Plan has been pushed back as the complicated facilities plan timeline has been delayed by the need to prepare architectural plans across numerous buildings and shepherd them through a complex state approval process. Throughout the process, Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra has stated that the district was looking at facilities planning as a way to “solve de facto segregation.”
“The NAACP has long opposed the lack of equity in educational enterprises that deny students of color an equal opportunity or do not prepare students for meaningful careers,” wrote Puryear in his email to Village Green. “So it is natural for our local Unit (Oranges & Maplewood) to proactively support efforts to eradicate injustice where ever it appears.The two communities for too many years have given the illusion that they believe in diversity, yet maintaining and supporting a segregated school system. The educational segregation is initiated in most cases in the fifth grade and continues throughout the high school years. Our Education Committee members have reviewed district longitudinal documents and post-graduate studies that have codified the negative post-graduation effects and affects of the district’s mis-education of students.”
In a release announcing the move by the NAACP, Black Parents Workshop Chairman Walter Fields said, “This marks a very significant development. The nation’s oldest and most storied civil rights organization sees our litigation as consistent with its goals for K-12 education. As it did in taking the lead in the fight for equity on behalf of children in southern states, by supporting our litigation the NAACP is reaffirming its stand and leading the way in the fight for equity in the 21st century.”
The release notes that Fields is a former Bergen County NAACP Board member, State Board member and state political director.
Fields argued that the suit — which asks for an array of programs and initiatives that the plaintiffs estimate would cost in excess of $12 million, in addition to compensatory damages on behalf of the student-plaintiffs — is mostly positive and not just punitive. In a release and attached document, he outlined the BPW’s work in leading fact-finding trips and arranging meetings between school district leadership and innovative equity and desegregation program.
The release also quotes other members of the BPW.
Robert Tarver, Legal Counsel for the Black Parents Workshop, is quoted in the release, saying, “The goal of any civil litigation is to settle a conflict. By declaring its support of our lawsuit, we believe the weight of the NAACP in terms of its experience and credibility will be a positive influence in helping us move toward resolution.”
Black Parents Workshop Trustee James H. Davis, III added, “This is a good day for anyone who truly cares about public education at the local level.”
Village Green is reaching out to the South Orange-Maplewood School District for comment. However, in the past a district spokeswoman has responded that the district cannot comment on active litigation.
Read the full Black Parents Workshop release below. Read more about the suit here.