Joint committee hears eye-opening testimony about segregation in NJ schools

Gary Stein is a lifelong New Jerseyan and a former NJ Supreme Court justice.

“And it’s for those reasons that I find it both personally and professionally embarrassing and upsetting that my state, of which I’ve always been so very proud, operates one of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated school systems in the entire country,” Stein said.

The Joint Committee on the Public Schools held its first of two hearings on school segregation. A Rutgers law professor said people think it’s a problem mainly in the south.

“The irony is that New Jersey is more segregated than all the states of the former confederacy: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia. It is the sixth most segregated in the country for African-Americans and the seventh most segregated for Latinos. The only states that are more segregated are New York, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and California,” said Elise Boddie, professor of law at Rutgers University.

Students are required in New Jersey to go to school where they live. That’s why black students tend to go to school with other black kids.

“All the white kids in all the areas of white concentration wake up and see the reverse. Everybody in the neighborhood is white. People of color live ‘over there’. That’s just the way it is. We wake up one day and discover we live in a segregated neighborhood,” said Connie Pascale, vice president at Legal Services of New Jersey.

Twenty-five percent of black students attend a 99 percent nonwhite school, according to Stein. He filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of civil rights groups against the state.

“I firmly believe that we will be successful in that lawsuit and that the courts of this state, if the state doesn’t do it voluntarily, that the courts will compel the desegregation of our schools,” he said.

Segregation in charter schools is even worse, Stein said. The consensus here was on integration.

“All children, all children learn best when they attend diverse school and can make friends with students from different races, backgrounds and cultural experiences,” said Carolyn Chang, president of Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.

“The problem with segregation is that it makes us more likely to assume that people are a certain way, to stereotype how they think and who they are. It leads us to miss their full complexity,” Boddie said.

There was some eye-opening testimony. Add segregation to the list of New Jersey’s problems.