Schools / Kids

SOMA Black Parents Workshop Forms Legal Team ‘In Anticipation of Litigation’

Screenshot from the new www.blackparentsworkshop.org website

The South Orange-Maplewood Black Parents Workshop announced this week that it is forming a pro-bono legal team “in anticipation of litigation we might be forced to pursue in light of the South Orange-Maplewood district’s failure to appropriate resources to close the achievement gap, despite its promises.”

The announcement came from Workshop convener Walter Fields who participated in a legal complaint against the the South Orange-Maplewood District several years ago with the ACLU and the UCLA Civil Rights Project “that targeted discriminatory practices in student discipline and academic tracking.” The district reached a settlement in a separate but similar suit by the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)  in 2014. Read about the complaint and settlement here.

In recent years, the district has sought to address the achievement gap between black and white students, taking steps such as de-leveling certain courses in the middle schools and hiring Sage Consultants to evaluate disparities and create action plans. In addition, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education passed Access & Equity and Academic Placement policies in 2015 that aimed to give students the option to select their levels and to receive supports for those choices.

Despite the settlement of the complaint by the OCR and subsequent actions, Fields wrote that the district had failed both legally and morally “in serving Black children and the time has come to hold the district fully accountable. We seek the appropriation of sufficient resources, monetary and personnel, the reconstruction of the district’s curriculum and the termination of personnel who exhibit bias toward Black children or in the exercise of their duties. On the last point, we are fully prepared to exercise provisions in state education law that allow us to challenge teacher tenure. We have lived through two decades of excuses by this district, hiding behind the façade of ‘diversity,’ while operating a de facto segregated public school system.”

A press release stated that the Black Parents Workshop “has also challenged the school district on the lack of diversity in its teacher ranks and its failure to adopt a culturally competent curriculum.”

The Workshop also announced that it has launched a new website – www.blackparentsworkshop.org – “as part of its continuing efforts to advocate for equity in the suburban New Jersey school district.”

“Recent developments in the district have moved us to begin planning a long-term campaign to reform public education in our community,” said Fields via the press release. “The website is the first in several steps we are taking to expand our efforts. We are also expanding our outreach nationally to collaborate in other suburban school districts where Black children are being similarly treated.”

Fields also noted recent high-profile incidents involving a display of slave auction posters by 5th graders at South Mountain School and a mock slave auction that was held and videotaped in a 5th grade Jefferson School class that was led by a substitute teacher.

“There have been multiple episodes in the district over the last two decades in which Black students have complained about their mistreatment and expressed frustration over the district’s response,” read the release. “The Black Parents Workshop will be proactive in assisting student organizing efforts and will play an active role in representing their concerns, and seeking reparative remedies for any harm experienced by maltreatment in the South Orange-Maplewood School District.”

Those interested in the Workshop can contact Walter Fields via blackparentsworkshop@gmail.com.

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