NJ School District Segregation and Discrimination Lawsuit Settled Black Parents Workshop announces Historic Settlement

July 13, 2020

Contact: Walter Fields
(973) 738-7876

Robert L. Tarver, Esq.
(732) 300-0653

South Orange Maplewood School Inequity Report
Settlement Terms
First Amended Complaint Part 1
First Amended Complaint Part 2
N.J. district accused of segregation settles lawsuit, will integrate under eye of federal monitor- NJ.com

(Maplewood, NJ) – The Black Parents Workshop, Inc., (BPW) today announces the settlement of its federal lawsuit against the South Orange Maplewood School District over the treatment of Black students in the New Jersey school district. The settlement culminates 6 years of advocacy by the Black Parents Workshop to call attention to the degree Black students in the South Orange-Maplewood School District are marginalized and the unlawful segregation of the district’s K-5 elementary schools.

Black Parents Workshop Inc. founder and Chairman of its Legal and Policy Committee Walter Fields stated, “This is a historic victory for Black students and families in the communities of South Orange and Maplewood. It is one of the rare instances in the nation when the grievances of Black students have been litigated and resolved in a manner that addresses patterns and practices that have undermined Black students’ success. We do commend the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education for coming to terms on the issues we raised and hope we are entering a new phase of cooperation and collaboration in the spirit of providing all children an excellent education. This is not the end, but the beginning of a process to inculcate equity in this district. It is our expectation that a real effort we now be put forth to close the unacceptable racial achievement gap in this school district. The real work now begins.”

The organization’s Legal Counsel Robert L. Tarver, Jr. added, “I am extremely gratified that we were able to resolve this matter for the benefit of the District’s Black children. The settlement is, I believe, landmark in its scope and represents what can be accomplished through strategic
advocacy and cooperative action.”

At the 1947 state constitutional convention the only Black delegate, attorney Oliver Randolph, the first Black admitted to the bar in New Jersey and a Republican legislator from Essex County, convinced delegates to include a provision barring segregation in public education in the new state constitution. Thus, New Jersey became the only state in the nation with a constitutional prohibition against segregation. This was 7 years before the historic United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The fact that today we are announcing an Essex County school district’s agreement to integrate its schools brings the work of Oliver Randolph full circle.

Fields declared, “This is an important moment for Black parents and families outside this particular community and school district. Too often, across the country, the concerns of Black families regarding the care and education of their children is disregarded as ‘complaining’ or ‘rabble rousing.’ Black children sit in classrooms every day and know that they are being mistreated, marginalized, and not receiving an education equivalent to their White peers. I encourage you to visit the Instagram page blackatsomsd and read the stories of our children’s experiences in this school district. What we achieved in the South Orange-Maplewood School District is a template for school districts across the nation, in urban and suburban communities.”

The Black Parents Workshop, Inc., through its attorney, Robert L. Tarver, Jr., filed its lawsuit in 2018, advance of the Latino Action Network v. New Jersey lawsuit that challenges statewide public-school segregation in the state. Settlement discussions in that lawsuit have broken down, leaving the matter of public-school segregation ripe for challenges at the district level. Fields said, “We hope the public will not sit back and wait for a larger consensus to develop on desegregating schools and addressing systemic barriers harming Black children in New Jersey. It is incumbent upon individual communities to declare their intent to educate all children in an integrated environment in keeping with federal and state law.”

The settlement agreement includes monitoring of the South Orange-Maplewood School District by retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., counsel to the law firm Brown & Connery, LLP. Justice Wallace will monitor the district’s integration plan and programs implemented to support Black students’ success. Fields remarked, “Justice Wallace is one of the most respected members of the New Jersey Bar who has served on the state’s highest court. He is uniquely qualified to serve in this role as monitor and the school district and community will be aided tremendously by his input and guidance.”

Tarver observed, “Since the filing of our lawsuit, the South Orange-Maplewood School District has taken some steps to remedy some of the issues we raised in our complaint, including; the reassignment of principals we identified as ill-equipped to meet equity goals, moving toward the full implementation of the state-mandated Amistad Black History curriculum, and ceasing the practice of calling police into Columbia High School for disputes best handled by school staff. We have also had two successive superintendents acknowledge our claim that the district’s K-5 elementary schools are unlawfully racially segregated. These steps are commendable and should point us in the direction of larger systemic reforms.”

Fields remarked, “We are indebted to Attorney Robert Tarver for his commitment and passion in pursuing substantive remedies for Black children in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. I have known Mr. Tarver for decades, we once served side-by-side as contributors on MSNBC, and his work as a legal analyst and anchor for television networks is well known within the legal profession. He answered our call when we had a Columbia High School student, a victim of an assault by the Maplewood police, and represented that young man successfully. The Black Parents Workshop is fortunate to have him guide our legal strategy and we look forward to working together going forward.”

Fields added, “We also want to thank our experts who helped guide our advocacy during this process. They include Dr. Ryan W. Coughlan, who conducted an extensive statistical analysis of segregation in the school district and residential segregation in the two towns. We are also indebted to nationally recognized and award-winning educator Dr. Carol Burris, who has been a source of information and support dating back to our visit to South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island when she served as principal of that school; noted for its success in ending academic tracking and closing the achievement gap. I must also thank Dr. Michelle Fine, who I have known for years and who is well versed on issues confronting Black students in the South OrangeMaplewood School District. Our efforts were substantially aided by having access to these

The Black Parents Workshop, Inc., filed a lawsuit in 2018 against the district in U.S. District Court in the District of New Jersey. Click here to read the First Amended Complaint Part 1. Click here to read the First Amended Complaint Part 2. The lawsuit alleged Black students’ lack of access to advanced level courses in Columbia High School, racial disparities in student discipline in the district’s schools, the segregation of the district’s K-5 elementary schools as a violation of federal and state law, the lack of supports for Black students seeking to enroll in advanced-level courses, the failure to fully implement the state-mandated Amistad Black history curriculum and the lack of transparency in publicly reporting instances of student discipline and the racial composition of classes. The lawsuit also included several individual plaintiffs, who in their specific cases, had mistreatment in the district.

Attorney Tarver reflected, “As we witnessed during our fight on behalf of Black children who were assaulted by the Maplewood police, the reality of living while Black for children in suburban communities like South Orange and Maplewood is fraught with obstacles and challenges. This litigation was never about money, as some alleged, but it was about securing an equitable future for Black children. This settlement represents the end of a legal dispute and the beginning of an accountability process. The Black Parents Workshop Inc. will remain vigilant and hold those elected to oversee the education of our children accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”