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COURT AGAIN RULES STATE MUST REMEDY SCHOOL SEGREGATION

The State Supreme Court has reaffirmed New Jersey’s prohibition on school segregation, ruling that "racial imbalance resulting from de facto segregation...is inimical" to the NJ constitutional guarantee of a thorough and efficient education. The Court reversed a decision by the NJ State Board of Education allowing students from a mostly white affluent community to exit from a regional high school with a growing enrollment of African-American and Latino students.

The case involves North Haledon -- a white affluent community -- that sought to withdraw from Manchester Regional High School, a district that also includes students from two increasingly minority communities, Prospect Park and Haledon.

In rejecting the pullout bid, the Supreme Court found that North Haledon's exit would result in a 9% reduction in white students in Manchester High School – from 53.7% to 44.3%. The Court further found that "withdrawal by North Haledon will deny the benefits of the educational opportunity offered by a diverse student body to both students remaining at Manchester Regional and to the students from North Haledon." The Court concluded that the pullout would disproportionately affect the racial imbalance at Manchester Regional High School, in violation of the "constitutional imperative to prevent segregation in our public schools."

The Court also ordered Education Commissioner William Librera to develop a fairer way of dividing the regional school's costs, a concern raised by North Haledon.

Citing "Brown at 50: King’s Dream or Plessy’s Nightmare" by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, the Court notes that New Jersey "ranks fifth in the nation in the percentage of minority students attending ninety to one hundred percent minority schools, and fourth in the nation in respect of Hispanic students." Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz goes on to state that "[w]e have paid lip service to the idea of diversity in our schools, but in the real world we have not succeeded."

In praising the Court’s ruling, ELC Executive Director David Sciarra repeated his call to Commissioner Librera to lead a statewide dialogue on the isolation of minority and low-income students in our public schools, and to develop concrete proposals for addressing the issue, including consolidation and regionalization of school districts. "Now that the Brown 50 commemorations are over, its time for the Commissioner to take up the Court’s challenge of finding real world solutions. We’re ready to join in that effort."

In Re the Withdrawal of North Haledon School District from the Passaic County Manchester Regional High School District (August 11, 2004)