Civil Rights Groups Demand Commissioner Carry Out Charter School Rules and State Supreme Court Rulings
New Jersey education and civil rights groups have filed legal action to compel the Commissioner of Education to commit to writing annual assessments of the segregative effects of charter schools on their district of residence by race, disability, and language proficiency status. The assessments, required by State rules governing New Jersey’s charter school program, are necessary to ensure charter schools serve students with characteristics comparable to those of their host district and do not otherwise discriminate or perpetuate patterns of student segregation in the public schools.
The lawsuit – an administrative petition – was prompted after the New Jersey Department of Education formally acknowledged that the Commissioner does not make a written record of the mandated annual assessments of student segregation. Without a written record, the lawsuit alleges, there is no way for parents, advocates and other stakeholders to know if the Commissioner actually performs the assessments, and whether or not charter schools are having a segregative impact on students in their district of residence.
The Petitioners in the lawsuit include New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, Latino Action Network, Latino Coalition of New Jersey, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, Save Our Schools New Jersey, Building One America, and the Network for Public Education. The Petitioners are represented by Education Law Center.
“It is absolutely stunning that neither the Commissioner nor anyone at the Department of Education makes a written record of the assessment of charter school enrollments and the impact on student segregation in the district where they are approved to operate,” said the Rev. Dr. Willie Francois of Building One America. “Without a written record, we have no way to know if the Commissioner even does the assessment, much less if charter schools are contributing to student segregation.”
In its recent ruling in TEAM Academy Charter School (TEAM Academy), a case involving the expansion of charter schools in Newark, the NJ Supreme Court reaffirmed the Commissioner’s obligation under the state constitution and the charter school law to evaluate the impact of charter schools on student segregation and take action to remedy segregation, where necessary. In its ruling, the Court relied on a regulation requiring the Commissioner, on an annual basis, to “assess the student composition of a charter school and the segregative effect that the loss of the students may have on its district of residence.” The charter program regulations also direct the Commissioner to review the annual assessments when deciding whether to renew charter school approvals every five years.
“The absence of a written record not only prevents the Commissioner from doing his or her job, it also thwarts any attempt by parents and the broader public to hold charter schools, the Commissioner, and the State accountable for ensuring that charter schools do not create or exacerbate segregation in New Jersey’s public schools, which already are among the most segregated in the nation,” said Diana Autin, Executive Director of the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN).
The Petitioners are seeking an order requiring the Commissioner to collect data on charter school enrollments not just by race, but also by English language proficiency and disability. The data on students with disabilities must also be disaggregated by type and severity of disability, classification category for special education services, and level of services and type of placement needed. The Petitioners are also seeking an order directing the Commissioner to keep, make and publish the assessments of charter school student composition and segregative effects and to make and publish a written record of how these assessments are incorporated into decisions on charter renewal applications.
The legal action is part of a broader effort by education and civil rights advocates to force the State to address and remedy the intense segregation of students in New Jersey’s public school system by race, socio-economic status and other factors. These efforts include the pending Latino Action Network v. State lawsuit seeking a broad set of remedial actions by the State to advance the constitutional right of students to the opportunity to attend schools with diverse enrollments.
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications