© 2020 | The New Jersey Coalition for Diverse & Inclusive Schools

Coalition of Civil Rights and Faith Leaders Announces

Historic Suit to Integrate N.J. Schools
Plaintiffs ask court to end policies that have made N.J.’s schools among the most segregated in the country

MAY 17, 2018 --- A diverse coalition of civil rights leaders, faith communities, business leaders, education advocates and a retired member of the New Jersey Supreme Court today announced a historic lawsuit designed to integrate the state’s public and charter schools.

In one of the first lawsuits filed in the nation since 1964 to challenge statewide school segregation, the New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools is tackling the root causes that have made New Jersey’s public school system one of the top six most segregated in the country. The suit was filed on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Although mandatory segregation in New Jersey’s public schools is prohibited, requirements that students attend their neighborhood schools, coupled with residential segregation, prevent hundreds of thousands of poor students of color from reaching their full potential. These requirements also deny all students the well-documented educational and lifelong benefits of integration. The lawsuit is asking the court to strike down provisions of our state’s education laws that drive this longstanding discrimination.

“The fight to integrate New Jersey’s schools is the great unfinished civil rights struggle of our time,” said Christian Estevez, President of the Latino Action Network, one of the plaintiffs in this suit. “Hundreds of thousands of Latino and African-American students are prevented from obtaining a quality education because they are forced to attend schools that are doubly segregated by both poverty and race. This lawsuit is the next step in building a future where all children get the chance to succeed.”

“This lawsuit puts New Jersey at the forefront nationally in the fight for equality,” added Elise Boddie, a coalition board member and nationally recognized civil rights attorney who serves as a law professor at Rutgers University. “This litigation picks up where the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education left off. We are now tackling the root causes that allow segregation in our schools to continue decades after the Supreme Court outlawed explicit racial segregation.”

The coalition — which was founded last year by a group of more than 20 community leaders spanning diverse fields, ranging from parent advocacy to law to the faith and business communities — has coordinated the suit that asks the court to strike down two provisions of state law.

The first requires students of traditional public schools to almost always attend their local school. The second requires charter schools to prioritize students from the charter school’s home district.

Given New Jersey’s longstanding patterns of racial segregation, those two requirements have created a situation in which about 270,000 African American and Latino students across New Jersey attend highly segregated schools, where at least 90 percent of the school population is composed of students of color who are also segregated by poverty. More than 80 percent of black and Latino children attending racially segregated schools come from low-income families.

“New Jersey’s segregated schools have failed our children for far too long,” said Richard T. Smith, President of the New Jersey NAACP, which is a plaintiff in the case. “Despite the best efforts of hardworking teachers, children of color forced to learn in segregated settings are more likely to drop out. They are less likely to attend college, and they score much lower on standardized tests. This lawsuit will finally force the state to tackle these issues head on and provide students of all races with the tools they need to learn.”

New Jersey’s segregated education system violates the New Jersey Constitution, explicitly prohibits racial segregation in public schools. New Jersey was the first state in the country to enshrine this protection in its governing document. 

New Jersey’s segregated schools also violate provisions in the Constitution that guarantee that the state provide students with a thorough and efficient education and equal protection of the law.

The coalition is chaired by retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary S. Stein.

“While a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court I was proud to support increased funding and free pre-school for urban school districts, through the Abbott decisions, and polices that promoted residential racial integration, through the Mount Laurel doctrine,” Justice Stein said. “But even with the tremendous gains we have made in those areas, more than 60 percent of black and Latino children still attend highly segregated schools. The state has been aware for decades of this intolerable degree of segregation by race and poverty, but has never confronted it.  This is not a hostile lawsuit and clearly is not focused on the actions of the current administration, which took office in January. It is brought in the state’s own interest to require New Jersey to deal with its unfinished business – ending segregation by race and poverty in its public schools.”

The case is being filed by seasoned litigators Lawrence S. Lustberg, who directs the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law at Gibbons P.C. and Michael S. Stein, Managing Partner of the law firm Pashman Stein Walder Hayden.  

The complaint was filed in Mercer County Superior Court today on behalf of a group of public school children and a series of civil rights and faith-based organizations, including: the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, the Latino Action Network, the Urban League of Essex County and the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey.

“Justice is at the heart of our church’s tradition,” said Bishop John R. Schol, who serves as head of the New Jersey Area for the United Methodist Church, overseeing 550 congregations. “Even as our state grows more diverse, our schools have become more segregated. New Jersey’s current school system harms us all and holds our state back. Our church is proud to further the cause of equality by joining this historic lawsuit.”

The plaintiffs in the case are asking the courts to direct the state’s education commissioner to promptly develop policies that would integrate New Jersey’s schools.

Some remedies that have worked in other jurisdictions include the creation of new magnet schools that draw students from many school districts.  Those magnet schools would be centers of educational excellence and would include children from both urban and suburban schools.  Other effective measures include the use of voluntary transfer plans, in which parents in select school districts would be permitted to send their children to schools in other districts in ways that increase diversity while expanding educational opportunities.

“I am heartened that our leaders in Trenton have pledged to finally tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality in our state,” said the Rev. Charles F. Boyer, the pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury, who serves as a coalition board member and as a leader of Salvation and Social Justice, an interfaith advocacy group. “You can’t address these issues without solving the problem of school segregation. We look forward to working with Governor Murphy and legislative leaders. The time to act is now.”

A list of all members of the board of the New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools is below:

  • Gary S. Stein, Chairman, Associate Justice, New Jersey Supreme Court (retired)

  • Elise Boddie, Professor, Rutgers University School of Law and former Director of Litigation, NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc.

  • Christian Estevez, President, Latino Action Network

  • Frank Arogete-Freyre, Chair of Latino Action Network Foundation and Director of Latino Coalition of New Jersey

  • Richard Smith, President, New Jersey NAACP

  • Bishop John Schol, United Methodist Church

  • Lawrence S. Lustberg, Partner, Gibbons, P.C.

  • Michael S. Stein, Managing Partner, Pashman Stein Walder Hayden

  • Paul Tractenberg, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University School of Law (Retired)

  • Rev. Darrell Armstrong, Shiloh Baptist Church, Trenton

  • Mary Bennett, Educational Consultant, Academy for Urban Transformation, Seton Hall University

  • Rev. Charles Boyer, Bethel AME Church, Woodbury

  • Elsa Candelario, Executive Director, Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey Inc.

  • Douglas Eakeley, Founder and Co-Director, Rutgers Center for Corporate Law & Governance

  • John Harmon, Executive Director, African American Chamber of Commerce

  • Ryan Haygood, President & CEO, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

  • Debra Jennings, Executive Co-Director, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network

  • Michael Nettles, Senior Vice President, Educational Testing Service

  • Richard Roper, President, The Roper Group and Member of the Rutgers University Board of Governors

  • David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center

  • Kevin Walsh, Executive Director, Fair Share Housing Center

  • Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey


The New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools was founded in 2016 as a broad group of community leaders, parents, faith leaders, civil rights advocates and members of the business community who have come together to tackle head-on the problem of racial segregation in New Jersey’s public schools. Learn more by visiting our website at www.inclusiveschoolsnj.org.