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N.J. school segregation lawsuit moves forward, judge orders districts to be notified

Decision advances the case, in which plaintiffs cite de facto segregation as district boundaries align with municipal borders that divide people by race and wealth.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A judge ruled Friday that a major lawsuit against the state of New Jersey over racial and socioeconomic segregation in the public school system can move forward.

The complaint, first filed in 2018, alleges that New Jersey has de facto segregation of its public school system, because district boundaries roughly align with municipal boundaries, which are largely segregated by race and wealth.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson refused to toss the case but ordered the plaintiffs, a group of social justice nonprofits and parents, to notify all of the state school districts of the ongoing lawsuit.

Although Jacobson did not agree to name the state’s 584 districts as defendants, as the state Attorney General’s Office had wanted, the judge did say she was “concerned” that none of the districts were participating in the case.

Plaintiffs say this violates the New Jersey constitution by racially segregating students and depriving them of a “thorough and efficient” education.

According to state data used in the complaint, more than 100,000 Black and Latino students attended schools that were at least 99% non-white.

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the state in the case, argued that there may be other explanations for the data and urged Jacobson to order discovery so it could hire its own experts to analyze the evidence. Jacobson agreed.

But Larry Lustberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the state Department of Education data was clear.

“To me this statistics are overwhelming and shocking and appalling,” Lustberg said. “I don’t know what sort of circumstances they could point to to justify them.”

The case now enters the discovery phase, which could take months or longer.

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