Equity & Diversity

Feds, Newark, N.J., Schools Reach Agreement Over Civil Rights Complaints

By Corey Mitchell — December 14, 2015 3 min read
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The Newark, N.J., public schools and the U.S. Department of Education have reached an agreement over complaints alleging black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by school closures and charter-school expansion in the district.

Newark has agreed to take a series of steps by the end of February to halt an ongoing federal investigation of possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs receiving federal money, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Newark has closed 13 public schools since 2009 and replaced them with public charter schools, forcing thousands of students to relocate to new buildings or consolidate onto campuses.

Newark’s Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE) and the Advancement Project, a national civil rights advocacy group, filed the complaint, arguing that former superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan created severe disparities that shortchanged minority students and those protected under Title II.

Black students make up about half of the district’s population but nearly 90 percent of the students affected by the reorganization plan, N.J.com reported.

Leaders of PULSE and the Advancement Project celebrated news of Newark’s agreement with the federal government.

“School closures have had a devastating impact on our children, families, and community,” said Tawanda Sheard, one of the parents who joined PULSE in filing the Title VI complaint on behalf of her elementary school-age daughter. “I am excited about the agreement and hope it helps not just my daughter, but students across Newark.”

Among the steps the Newark schools, must take to resolve the complaints are:

  • Identify whether any transferring students have suffered any academic deficiencies and take steps to remedy them.
  • Determine whether transportation issues affected the ability of transferring students to participate in extracurricular activities.
  • Investigate where disabled transferring students were provided with appropriate special education and related aids and services in the receiving school; and if not, whether compensatory or remedial services are necessary.

The school closures have drawn the ire of parents and community activists in a community already chaffing under school leadership they considered unresponsive. The public schools in Newark have been under state control for the past two decades, but are set to return to local governance by summer 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointed Christopher Cerf, a former state education commissioner and a vocal supporter of Cami Anderson, as the district’s new leader after Anderson’s departure.

Back in September, my colleague Denisa Superville took a look at the start of Cerf’s tenure and the challenges the district faces under his watch.

Though a letter from the education department makes clear that their agreement with Newark doesn’t apply to other districts, observers in urban school districts across the nation are watching the developments there.

The Advancement Project is also fighting against school closures and charter school expansion in New Orleans and Chicago.

“In New York, Chicago, New Orleans and in many other predominately black communities across the country, corporate education intervention policies are destroying public schools by either closing them, turning them over to private management companies, firing teachers and/or squeezing education budgets. These education experiments are almost exclusively imposed on our black and brown children,” Jitu Brown, the director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, said in a statement.

Journey for Justice, a network of grassroots organizations, is challenging school closures in more than 20 cities.

Newark Resolution Letter

Newark Resolution Agreement (002)

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.