The South Orange-Maplewood School District and the Black Parents Workshop are disputing compliance with a settlement reached just over a year ago over access and equity in the district.
The BPW released a letter, below, alleging the district hasn’t responded to the group’s requests for a meeting, and that the district has not updated the public on any of the settlement details. The district disputed that account, and sent the following statement on Monday:
“The parties agreed in Paragraph 31 of the Settlement Agreement that ‘any allegation of non-compliance… should be communicated specifically, promptly and in writing to the Superintendent of Schools, with a copy to the Board of Education President and the District’s General Counsel. The parties agree that this notification mechanism shall be the exclusive means of bringing allegations of non-compliance to the District’s attention.. . .’ BPW’s press release is itself a violation of the parties’ settlement agreement. What’s more, it contains numerous inaccuracies. In keeping with the spirit of the settlement, our legal counsel will be alerting BPW’s attorney to those false allegations privately, but just one example makes the point: The district posted course enrollment data on the SOMSD website in late January 2021. That data is easily accessible (two clicks). It was also posted on the district’s Twitter and Facebook pages on January 29th, 2021. The assertion that this information has not been shared is factually incorrect. We are disappointed that BPW has resorted to this tactic and will take such steps as we deem appropriate to address it.”
See more information on the lawsuit and settlement in these links; Village Green will continue to follow this story.
Statement from Black Parents Workshop, Sept. 20, 2021:
We have now passed the one-year mark since the Black Parents Workshop signed a Settlement Agreement with the South Orange-Maplewood School District related to our federal civil rights lawsuit against the District. During this last year we have not issued any public statements because it was our intention to move forward in good-faith and allow the District to honor the commitment it made on paper to not the Black Parents Workshop, but the children and families of the school District. Today, we feel the need to set the record straight on the terms of the agreement and how we currently assess progress toward the resolution of the issues identified in our federal complaint. Our Legal Counsel, Attorney Robert Tarver, has made our specific concerns known to the District’s legal counsel.
It is important that the public understands that while the litigation included individual plaintiffs, those parties represented specific areas of neglect and omission that the Black Parents Workshop identified as systemic failures in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. This Settlement Agreement is not a matter between individual plaintiffs and the District. The remedies agreed upon address systemic deficiencies in the District. Likewise, the litigation covered the District, K-12. The Settlement Agreement covers the entire school district and not just elementary schools, as we have heard represented in recent public meetings. Our intent is systemic reform.
The District has not been transparent and has hid behind the claim of ‘litigation’ as an excuse not to discuss the settlement in a public forum. There is no litigation at this point. We have a signed settlement agreement that is subject to public review. There is nothing that prevents the District with informing the public with a great degree of specificity its progress, or lack of, in meeting the terms of the settlement agreement. There are no issues of confidentiality in regard to the systemic remedies called for in the settlement agreement. Yet, the District, hides behind the word ‘litigation’ to prevent public scrutiny of its efforts. This is shameful given that all of the agreed upon remedies are meant to support children in the community. The public has the right to know whether the District is honoring its commitment, and if not, why.
To date, we have had no formal communication with the Superintendent or the Board of Education regarding the Settlement Agreement, though we have requested such a meeting. We do know the Superintendent has communicated with other community groups, and through an OPRA request, we have obtained email communication that appears to confirm that the Superintendent has intentionally advised staff against communicating with the Black Parents Workshop. In addition, per the Settlement Agreement, we have not received the framework for a monitoring plan from retired state Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr. as required within 90 days of the execution of the agreement. We also have no confirmation that the District has been in communication with Justice Wallace or provided him with any of the requisite data upon which he can assess the District’s progress in complying with the Settlement Agreement.
While the District claims to be in the process of implementing the state required Amistad Black History curriculum, the Settlement Agreement requires verification from the New Jersey Department of Education that the District is in full compliance with the curriculum. We have yet to receive verification.
In addition, there has been no communication from the District regarding any plans or strategy to increase the number of Black teachers in the District, as stipulated in the Settlement Agreement. The Black Parents Workshop has been in communication with the District’s equity consultant, Dr. Edward Fergus, and is actively engaged in assessing his work on an integration plan and responding to his work in real-time. We have concerns over pupil assignment to elementary schools, strategies to ensure the integration of both middle schools, and making certain the burden of desegregation does not fall upon the backs of Black and brown students and families. Black Parents Workshop has not received an integration plan from the District, nor the specific goals of an integrated plan or a timetable, as required by the Settlement Agreement.
To date, the District has not revealed any plans or strategies to end the pervasive practice of tracking in Columbia High School and to promote and support access to advanced-level instruction for Black students. We are also waiting for the District to develop programmatic supports to assist students who do enroll in advanced-level courses and interventions to prevent enrolled students from dropping courses. Our concern extends to the identification of resources in the school District budget to support programs that encourage course enrollment.
As per the Settlement Agreement, we are waiting for the District to provide us with the report of course enrollments by race and gender for all courses in grades 6-8 and 9-12 for each specific school. Under the terms of the Agreement, the District must make this data available on the District’s website and social media platforms. The District has also not provided any guidance on addressing the deficiencies with the Attendance and Credit Recovery process.
The District has not authorized the Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Access to report to the public the District’s progress in meeting the terms of the Settlement Agreement, per the requirement of the Agreement. The District has also failed to inform the community of South Orange-Maplewood on the school system’s progress or lack of progress in complying with the Settlement Agreement. The public should be asking questions. The Black Parents Workshop is also concerned that the Assistant Superintendent for Equity and Access is not receiving the support and managerial authority by the Superintendent to ensure full compliance with the Settlement Agreement.
It is our intention to seek an immediate meeting with the District to discuss these outstanding issues, or, if necessary, seek legal recourse as provided in the Settlement Agreement.
Walter Fields, Pro bono Consultant
Founder & Board of Advisers Member
Black Parents Workshop