A four-year legal battle challenging segregation in New Jersey schools resumed Thursday, and a state Supreme Court judge heard oral arguments in a case that could become a landmark case once decided.
In 2018, the Latino Action Network sued the state the UCLA bomb report for 2017 which found that New Jersey schools were among the most secluded in the country. It noted that the state was moving “towards a segregated future without a racial majority, but serious racial stratification and division.”
On Thursday, Latino Action Network lawyers argued that there was enough evidence to show that racial imbalances existed in schools and that the state had not addressed the issue. Lawyers for public and statutory schools, who asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, argued that there were many definitions of segregation in academia and that the plaintiffs were unable to determine what they were discussing. Supreme Court Justice Robert Lugi did not rule Thursday; he also declined to offer a timeline if he would decide to sue, drop the case or recognize that the state should create a desegregation plan.
While New Jersey’s public school population as a whole is very diverse, it is not reflected in most neighborhoods and schools
Thursday’s arguments focused on two questions: how to define segregation and who can define it?
Typically, segregation is defined as a division based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status — whether it exists solely as a social practice or is codified in law.
In the summary brief Filed in January, the plaintiffs, led by the Latino Action Network and NAACP New Jersey, argued that racial and ethnic demographics for students prove that New Jersey has an unconstitutional, segregated school system. More than 63% of black and Hispanic students in the state attended schools that were 75% non-white, according to their legal opinion, while about 40% of white students attended schools where more than 75% were white in 2015 –2016 and 2019–2020 school years.
Arguing that the state has failed to correct the racial imbalance
“This is a fact that should not be accepted or tolerated, and in accordance with constitutional and statutory law, the state is responsible for addressing this fact by taking appropriate steps to integrate its public schools,” said Lawrence Lustberg, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. at the briefing.
In court on Thursday, Lustberg argued that the state has failed to correct racial imbalances in schools – which he acknowledges exists – and upheld the problem by allowing children to enter school districts depending on where they live.
Lustberg said enrollment based on residence in an unconstitutional way creates homogeneous schools and de facto segregation because of the state’s history of the red line and exceptional zoning.
Activists, states agree that public schools are not mixed by race. The legal struggle will be how to fix this
“The state has been on notice for many years,” Lustberg told the court, adding that they were upset that the state “did nothing” to integrate schools.
Deputy Attorney General Chistopher Weber, who represented the state, and Lisa Scraggs, who represented statutory schools, did not deny that segregation existed in New Jersey. But, asking Luga to dismiss the lawsuit, Weber said the plaintiffs “failed” to determine segregation, and the burden does not lie with the state, as they were simply defendants in the case.
Weber said there was no “magic number” to demonstrate the existence of segregation, and that the plaintiffs used only “raw data” to prove their rightness. He argued that a more “holistic” approach was needed, such as considering transport to school and parents’ decisions about where they would like to send their children to school.
Scraggs said the plaintiffs had to do “hard work” to establish segregation measures to demonstrate that it exists.
At the end of the hearing, Lustberg added that the data speaks for itself and showed that there is a racial imbalance in New Jersey schools and that the plaintiffs want a court order for the state to plan for school desegregation.
The legislature seeks to address school segregation on its own, through a bill C-280 – Create a School Desegregation Division in the State Department of Education – Break through the Senate.