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Judge Rules Against Parents in Camden Case, Kids to Remain in District Schools

Citing poor test grades and decaying public schools does not sway judge in petition for emergent relief

An administrative law judge yesterday ruled against three Camden parents hoping to yank their kids from public schools on the grounds that they were failing to provide a “through and efficient” education.

The court's decision in Vargas v. Camden adds to the state’s never-ending debate over constitutional rights to a quality education.

Essentially, the parents filed a class-action complaint with the state arguing that their children should be entitled to attend another district or even private school on the public’s dime because they were suffering “irreparable harm” for every day they stayed in the Camden system.

As part of the case filed with state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, the three petitioners sought immediate emergent -- or emergency -- relief to flee what is arguably the lowest-performing district in the state.

The hearing on the case was held Tuesday, and the petitioners’ lawyers cited at least some of the students’ poor academic performance, along with the mounting criticisms of the district that has placed it on the verge of state takeover.

But Administrative Law Judge Edward Delanoy yesterday released his order that would deny the emergent request. The order goes back to Cerf for final determination.

Delanoy wrote that the families’ argument failed to prove that these particular children were being harmed by the schools, and that a host of variables are at work in determining their status.

“Mere allegations that [state] tests have been failed and that performance is decreasing does not necessarily distinguish these students from any other student in this State who may also have failed a test and/or have worsening grades,” Delanoy wrote.

“It would be unfair to place the blame for the alleged shortcomings of the petitioner schoolchildren solely at the feet of the District, without regard for some consideration of sufficient proofs to indicate that the District is to blame,” he wrote.

The judge was not an apologist for the district, but said that its larger failures had not been proven to be harming these individual students.

“Mere reliance on an overwhelmingly unfavorable general review of the District’s schools, without more, is not enough to establish that petitioners are not receiving a thorough and efficient education in each of their particular circumstances,” Delanoy wrote.

The petitioners, represented by advocates who have long pressed for private school vouchers in the state, said they would challenge Delanoy’s decision while continuing to pursue the larger class-action case.

“We are hopeful that the Commissioner of Education will carefully review this matter and place the immediate needs and interests of children ahead of the interests of a school district that has failed them for over a decade,” read the joint statement from lawyers Patricia Bombelyn and Julio Gomez.

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