While the plight of Black children in urban school districts has been widely chronicled, and rightly so, the experiences of their Black peers in suburban school districts has been much less so. Issues confronting Black children in suburban communities are many. Students face overt discrimination and implicit bias, hostility, disproportionate punishment, and feelings of isolation when given the rare opportunity to participate in classes beyond remedial levels. Black children with learning disabilities (Special Education Parent Advisory Committee - SEPAC) are not immune to such experiences and abuses as well. The well documented ‘achievement gap’ is a byproduct of the treatment of Black children in public schools and the lack of will on the part of educators and administrators to confront systems of structural racism that deny equal opportunities to Black children.
"What is Your Life's Blueprint?" - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)
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Hiding behind the façade of ‘diversity,’ and a self-perpetuated narrative of inclusion, the communities of South Orange and Maplewood New Jersey have been engaged in an over two-decade failure to treat Black students with dignity and respect, and provide them the education to which they are constitutionally entitled. Black children are misdirected and ill-served as early as their elementary school years in the South Orange-Maplewood School District and are often already significantly disadvantaged by the time they complete their middle school education. In many instances, Black students' fate by the time they enter the doors of Columbia High School has already been determined.
The South Orange-Maplewood School District, while acknowledging the racial achievement gap, has only provided lip service to its resolution and simply shuffled the deck when its practices are called into question. In many instances, Board of Education members have been wholly complicit in perpetuating discriminatory practices. And, the Black community shares some of the blame for watching in silence as our children have been mistreated.
The primary areas of concern regarding access and equity in the South Orange-Maplewood School District remain:
The Black Parents Workshop is committed to the end of this decades old travesty. There is no acceptable outcome except the dismantling of systems of oppression that have hindered Black children in our communities for too long. We take exception to and reject efforts to placate Black parents through meaningless expressions such as town hall meetings, ‘dialogues’ or self-serving claims of ‘concern’ by some in the community that is only meant to protect property values in South Orange and Maplewood.
While we continue to advocate for the wholesale restructuring of our public-school district, we take the position that Black students are protected by certain provisions in state education law, state and federal civil rights laws, and the New Jersey and United States constitutions. If we detect a failure of the school district to meet its obligations under the Resolution Agreement it signed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education or determine it to be in violation of constitutional law, we will seek redress in the appropriate courts of law. We will use any legal means necessary – litigation, protest, civil disobedience – to disrupt the maintenance of a school district that refuses to educate Black children.
At the same time, we are committed to helping Black parents become stronger advocates for their children and teach Black students to be active proponents for their own welfare. It is our intention to work with Black children in all stages of their public education and will specifically seek alliances with Black students in Columbia High School. We believe our young people must be prepared to advocate in their own self-interest and we are prepared to provide them whatever assistance is necessary to do so.
The Black Parents Workshop has played an active role in seeking reform of the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Listed below are some of the steps we have taken to improve educational opportunity and outcomes for Black children in our community.
· Led a delegation of district administrators and staff on a visit to Southside High School in Rockville Centre New York to learn how this school successfully closed its racial achievement gap by de-leveling (eliminating academic tracking) its classes.
· Supported civil rights complaints filed against the district by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the UCLA Civil Rights Project.
· Supported and assisted parents whose children encountered difficulties in the school district.
· Advocated for and continue to demand the hiring of Black and Latino faculty members to address a significant racial disparity in teacher ranks in the school district. To date the public has not been given information as to the outcome (e.g. attendance, applications received, interviews granted, hires) of a “Diversity Hiring Fair” the district held three years ago.
· Advocated for the full implementation of the State of New Jersey mandated Amistad Black History curriculum.
· Provided counsel and significant editing to the district’s Equity and Access Policy adopted in 2016.
· Conferred with national education experts on the issue of academic tracking (leveling) and other areas of disparate impact.
· Recommended national education experts such as Dr. Carol Burris and Vanderbilt University Professor Dr. Carol Ford, to the South Orange Maplewood School District to advise the district on restructuring its academic programs and classes to embrace equity. Both experts expressed their willingness to assist the district. To date the district has failed to follow-up on the recommendations.
· Introduced the district leadership to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, proposed the civil rights organization monitor the school district, and accompanied the district superintendent to a meeting at the organization’s headquarters. To date, there has been no action on this recommendation.
· Participated in the district’s strategic planning process, and demanded that the process included student representatives, but withdraw from participation upon indications in committee work that the process was not culminating in substantive efforts to address racial disparities and equity.
· Supported the creation of the Black Student Union at Columbia High School.
· Facilitated a meeting between district administrators and the School of Education and Urban Studies at Morgan State University to facilitate a collaboration for the purpose of the recruitment of university graduates for teaching positions in the district.
· Supported Black youth who were assaulted by Maplewood police officers on July 5, 2016, and advocated for the release of police video tapes and audio tapes that resulted in the Maplewood Township Committee demanding the resignation of the chief of police and captain of the police department.
Columbia High School alumni discuss academic tracking or "leveling." Produced by Chris Thorne. Part I
Columbia High School alumni discuss academic tracking or "leveling." Produced by Chris Thorne. Part II
Amir Bilal Billups - "Special Education"
WARNING: Graphic Language. We believe the experiences of Black youth in suburban communities must be heard, no matter the tone or critique. We don't condone the language but we understand the perspective.
Complaint Claims Columbia HS Treats Minorities Unfairly
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