NEWARK, NJ - The New Jersey Charter Schools Association filed a motion Tuesday to intervene in a lawsuit that, in part, argues public charter schools contribute to segregated classrooms due to how the system chooses who may attend.
Harry Lee, the president of the association, said Wednesday it intervened in the lawsuit to defend the notion that charter schools are part of a solution to desegregate classrooms rather than exacerbate the problem.
In filing the motion, the association was joined by one Jersey City charter school and three parents of charter school students, including one from Newark.
Lee said the lawsuit’s assessment that public charter schools disproportionately serve black and Latino students was an unfair argument because most charter schools in New Jersey serve students in urban areas.
“We think that charters schools are part of the solution,” Lee said of desegregating classrooms, adding that he believed the lawsuit claiming that charter schools contribute to segregation was “absurd on its face.”
Initially filed in May 2018, the complaint includes a host of plaintiffs from nonprofit organizations that advocate for minorities as well as several students represented by their parents from across the state.
In the May 2018 court filing, the plaintiffs argued that school segregation produces “a two-way system of racial stereotyping stigma, fear, and hostility ” that is also detrimental to white students who attend schools that are not racially diverse.
Christian Estavez, president of the Latino Action Network, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the group's intention is to eliminate the state requirement that children attend schools in districts based on where they live. It argues the requirement contributes to segregation at schools in New Jersey based on a district’s racial demographics.
Attorneys argued that charter schools contribute to that problem because those schools give first preference who students that live within its district, despite the system also allowing students from outside those areas to apply for admission.
Lee said while the association agrees the state needs to find solutions to desegregate classrooms, he believes charter schools are “unfairly targeted” in the lawsuit.
Tafshier Cosby-Thomas, a charter school parent and advocate from Newark, said in a statement she chose to send her son and daughter to a charter school because she wanted them to “go to school with students and teachers that reflect our community.”
“Parents should not have to choose between supporting existing good public schools and pursuing integration,” she said.