MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Black Parents Workshop has settled their case against the South Orange-Maplewood School District two years after the lawsuit was filed in federal court.

“We welcome the opportunity to put this litigation behind us and move forward together as a District and community, working to live up to our creed of service,” said Superintendent Ronald Taylor.

The suit was filed on Feb. 27, 2018 in U.S. District Court in the District of New Jersey in Newark on behalf of four plaintiffs’ families against the South Orange-Maplewood School District alleging violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. According to the Black Parents Workshop, Inc. website, “The lawsuit is based on a pattern of policies and practices that have discriminated against African-American students.

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“We have taken this action due to the repeated failure of the South Orange-Maplewood School District to cease these practices, and for its failure to comply in principle and in substance with the provisions of a U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Resolution Agreement (OCR Docket No. 02-13-5003) the district voluntarily signed in October 2014. In addition, the South Orange-Maplewood School District has maintained and supported a de facto segregated system of K-5 elementary schools, while segregating students by race in Columbia High School due to the tracking of students and their placement in ‘levels’ that have produced gross racial disparities in academic achievement.”

The terms of the settlement include implementing equity scholar Dr. Edward Fergus’ plans to integrate the elementary schools in the district. Retired N.J. Supreme Court Justice John J. Wallace Jr. will be monitoring the implementation process. Fall of 2021 is the expected deadline for the integration plan.

“There's no reason why we cannot have equity and parity and desegregation in these things if the will is there,” BPW attorney Robert Tarver told NPR. 

SOMSD will also adopt the Amistad Black History curriculum. The purpose of the Amistad curriculum is described on the N.J. Dept. of Ed website is to, “implement materials and texts which integrate the history and contributions of African-Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora.” SOMSD will be responsible for providing proof of compliance to the BPW.

“The board voted unanimously to approve this settlement as it helps us move closer to delivering upon the as yet unrealized promise of the access and equity policy passed in 2015,” said Board President Annemarie Maini.

In the future the BPW will be “continuing to make sure that black children in the school district are receiving their legally entitled education,” said Walter Fields, founder and former chairman of the BPW.

Going forward the district will be publicly reporting the race and gender of all suspensions and expulsions and the class enrollments for grades 6-12.

The financial obligations of the district as a result of the settlement include paying the plaintiffs in the lawsuit an undisclosed amount and covering the BPW’s legal fees. The district will also be responsible for paying the consultant Dr. Fergus and the monitor Justice Wallace Jr. The cost of all future programs suggested by Dr. Fergus will also be paid for by the district.

New Jersey is the only state to have a clause in its constitution specifically banning school segregation. The constitutional clause was adopted in 1947 seven years before the Brown v. Board of Ed Supreme Court decision that outlawed school segregation across the country.


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