With reported post-election increases in discriminatory harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools and a new administration taking office, Education Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) have asked New Jersey’s Acting Commissioner of Education, Kimberley Harrington, to take action to ensure NJ public schools are safe havens for all students.
In a letter to the Acting Commissioner, the organizations urged her to take immediate action to reaffirm the state’s strong public policy against discrimination and to ensure safe and welcoming school environments. More than one-fifth of NJ’s residents are foreign-born, and the state’s population is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse in the country. Enrollment data in NJ public schools reflects that diversity.
“Our 1.4 million public school children are protected by a vast array of laws, including a United States Supreme Court decision that prevents students from being excluded from school based on their immigration status and powerful state anti-discrimination and anti-bullying statutes,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “In light of recent incidents of bullying and harassment, it is imperative that State education officials inform and remind local educators of their legal obligation to protect our students as required by federal and state law.”
ELC, the ACLU-NJ and NJAIJ have asked the Acting Commissioner to:
- advise school officials that all NJ public schools must operate as safe havens;
- reaffirm the state’s strong policy against discrimination;
- protect students’ and families’ personally identifiable information to the fullest extent possible under law;
- provide example letters and Q&A sheets for local district communication with parents;
- offer professional development for staff and administrators on measures to ensure schools are safe havens for students.
“New Jersey’s public schools play a crucial role in ensuring that immigrant students and families can participate and succeed in their communities,” said Johanna Calle of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “We must work to ensure that schools remain safe places where students can flourish.”
“Every student deserves a safe and productive learning environment, and the job of the NJDOE is to do everything in its power to furnish that constitutional promise,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “In an atmosphere of uncertainty for many of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities, NJDOE shoulders the great responsibility of fully exerting New Jersey’s civil rights laws to safeguard New Jersey students’ opportunities to learn.”
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
ACLU-NJ Communications Director
NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications