Judge Lougy Hears NJ Schools Segregation Case

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Governor Phil Murphy loves to brag about New Jersey’s great education system, while Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz – formerly chair of the state Senate Education Committee – frequently notes the deep inequities in school opportunities for too many New Jersey students.

For critics like Ruiz, in essence, the state – supposedly a Northern icon of progressive values – is actually a study in old South-style segregation. Today, the Latino Action Network presented that view – and the argument for change  – in a case against the State of New Jersey heard by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy.

The network’s lawsuit specifically challenges state laws, policies and practices that require students to attend schools in the geographic locations where they live, denying students in isolated, lower-income areas — who are overwhelmingly Black and Latino — opportunities to become successful in their lives.

Laurence Lustberg argued for the plaintiff while Christopher Weber represented the State of New Jersey.

“In the immortal words of Thurgood Marshall,” Lustberg quoted, “‘Unless our children learn together, there is little chance that our people will live together.'”

Like Ruiz, Lustberg noted that New Jersey is routinely “quick to congratulate itself on being fair.”

“Actually, it’s one of the worst [segregated states] in the nation,” the attorney said.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2018, cites national research that shows that segregation in the state is “among the worst in the country.” It goes on to say that “these segregative State laws, policies and practices also violate those students’ constitutional rights under other provisions of the New Jersey Constitution that prohibit racial segregation in public schools and guarantee all New Jersey residents the equal protection of the laws.”

In the complaint, plaintiffs argue that segregation does not only impact Black and Latino students, but white students, as well. These students face greater risks of adopting prejudicial views due to the lack of diverse interaction, creating “a two-way system of racial stereotyping, stigma, fear, and hostility that obscures individuality and denies all concerned the recognized benefits of diversity in education.”

Lustberg said the stats show “obvious segregation”  and point to a system that does not give people a choice and create opportunities for people to cross district lines to find better schools for their children.

He admitted that finding a solution to the problem of schools segregation in New Jersey would be hugely difficult and complicated. A remedy would require legislative and executive action. “There is no statewide instant fix,” Lustberg said. “This will require legislative resolve.” But New Jersey – and America – should be in the business of tackling what’s difficult in order to achieve justice.

Weber counter argued that the plaintiff seeks an admission from the court that the entire New Jersey educational system is unconstitutional.

“Without deeper analysis,” Weber said. “They refuse to examine root causes of imbalances. The plaintiffs want to leave the courtroom with a verdict that holds the state liable, without participating in the process of providing a thorough and efficient education in a wildly diverse state.

“They have not provided evidence that raw data proves segregation,” the attorney added. “There is no such thing as per say segregation. You to have to examine root causes like access to affordable housing, transportation, demographic trends, and whether students are provided with access to a thorough and efficient education. Their argument is  resting on broad data alone.”

Lougy weighed both sides this morning before taking a break.

More later.

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