Racial segregation still affects N.J. school districts

Earlier this week, Robert T. Lougy, a judge from the New Jersey Superior Court, ruled that the state of New Jersey has failed to address racial segregation in public K through 12 schools, and “the state had an ‘attitude of helplessness’” when facing the task of solving this problem. This ruling resulted from a case that was led by Latino Action Network, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other advocacy groups. 

New Jersey’s current system for assigning public schools to children functions based on their zip code. Although this system seems logical and fair on the surface level, it has some rather large flaws. 

One of the most prominent flaws of this is the issue addressed by the court ruling mentioned above: racial segregation. 

Despite being outlawed in 1968,redlininga type of racial discrimination that prevented people of color from owning a home—still impacts the racial-ethnic makeup of areas of NJ. When this is coupled with the policy of assigning schools based on the student’s zip code, this often results in stark divides in the racial-ethnic makeup of each school. The Lesniak Institute reported the case and stated, “66% of Black students and 62% of Latino students attend schools that are 75% or more non-White.” 

Another issue associated with assigning schools based on zip code is variations in socioeconomic status. According to the American Psychological Association, “school systems in low-SES communities are often [sic] underresourced, negatively affecting students’ academic progress and outcomes;” students of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to drop out and tend to have less educational opportunities when compared with students of higher socioeconomic status. 

Take Camden County, NJ for example. According to a graphic created by NJ Spotlight News, school districts in this county range from 99.1% non-white to 19.9% non-white. 

It isn’t much of a stretch to say this de facto segregation, as Judge Robert T. Loughy termed it, is likely a result of intentional political action. Politicians in the U.S. have shown a tendency to express racist sentiments and pass covertly racist policies throughout the country’s history. 

One solution that has been suggested for this problem is a more widespread implementation of programs that allow parents to choose what schools their kids attend. The Century Foundation suggests that a possible fix for this problem could be the implementation of “magnet schools,” schools with specific focuses to attract students with specific interests and, in turn, more diverse student bodies. Some also suggest merging neighboring districts that are currently “segregated and contiguous municipalities, and stricter oversight of within-district zoning to prevent segregation.” 

Legislative parties of the State of New Jersey are hesitant to implement change out of fear of backlash. Throughout this case, their response has been to deny the problem exists and to claim the problem would be too hard to fix. Their fear of taking action has resulted in inaction.  

However, this necessitates an important reminder – inaction is an action. Refusing to make a decision and refusing to make a choice is making a choice. 



Featured photo courtesy of Fauxels, Pexels