NAACP Considers Suit Against South Orange-Maplewood School District

The Oranges & Maplewood NAACP passed a resolution June 15 it says is aimed at "ending racial segregation within the South Orange/Maplewood School District."

The local unit of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution on June 15 that is the first step in bringing a lawsuit against the South Orange-Maplewood School District to end what it calls "racial segregation" in the district.

"The goal is immediate deleveling from grades eight to 12, as quickly as possible," said Thomas Puryear, Unit President of the NAACP's Oranges and Maplewood Division. Puryear confirmed for Patch that the "Resolution in Support of Ending Racial Segregation Within the South Orange/Maplewood School District" passed a vote by the general membership unanimously.

The local unit's resolution was then sent to the national NAACP offices for review. (The full text of the resolution is below.) Should it pass–and Puryear expects "a favorable resolution"–the organization would file suit against the district for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights' Act of 1964 which "prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding."

In a phone interview on July 12, Puryear described the current system of levels—known in many districts as "tracking"—as "damaging." Noting that the district voted in June to de-level seventh grades in both middle schools, Puryear described that effort as "modest," and "not pro-active." The media release that Puryear gave out Monday explained further, stating "the Board's most recent attempt to provide equity for all students in the school district, is at best a very modest placement adjustment, while allowing past negative practices to continue. Such placement practices promote segregated classes which are illegal . . . ."

Leveling can be described as the separation of students into academic tracks by achievement. Students in the South Orange-Maplewood School District are placed in levels based on their scores on the state standardized test (NJ ASK), teacher recommendations and grades. The leveling begins in middle school, though the district removed leveling in Grade 6 in 2003, and, just this past June, the Board of Education voted to collapse levels 3 and 4 into one level in the 7th grade. At South Orange Middle School, in language arts, 63 percent of the students in Level 4 classes (the highest academic level) are white. In Level 3, 68 percent of the students are black. Level 2 classes are overwhelming comprised of black students—90 percent, according to district data.

The issue of the achievement gap in the district between black and white students received national attention with a radio documentary "Mind the Gap: Why Good Schools Are Failing Black Students." The report was produced for National Public Radio by journalist and local resident Nancy Solomon and explored the disparity at Columbia High School.

A 60-person task force was brought together last fall to propose remedies for closing the gap. Their recommendations—which also include changes at the elementary schools and high schools—were presented to the Board of Education last month which adopted the recommendations in June.

Puryear noted that other districts may also face legal action from the local NAACP. "There are 10 in our domain," he noted. South Orange-Maplewood is the current focus because a great deal of information about the district was easily obtained. "There is a vast amount of information," said Puryear. Besides statistical reports, Puryear cites anecdotal evidence, including visual cues. He has been told, though he said he has not seen for himself, that classrooms at Columbia High School don't appear to be fully integrated.

Puryear, when asked about damages that might accrue from a potential lawsuit, replied, "The damage is already being done. Students are victims of a segregated school district." He added that "only some are rising," and "some criteria [for placing students] is arbitrary."

Instead, Puryear, speaking for the local unit of the NAACP, is pursuing an unleveled district, with particular focus on grades eight through 12. 

The next step in the pending lawsuit belongs to the NAACP's legal team at the national level. Puryear supported his request with "30 to 40 documents" about the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Those documents include the Task Force report issued earlier this year, as well as the May 2008 Leveling Criteria, the 2008-09 State of the District Report, and Brian Osborne's "Welcome Back to Staff," dated September 2008. In addition, Puryear sent numerous articles to the national staff.  

The national staff of the NAACP has not yet responded. This week is the organization's national convention, so no action is expected immediately. In the meantime, the local unit's media release includes a request for parents, guardians and students "who are willing to share their specific negative impacts as it relates to the lack of equity within the South Orange/Maplewood school district."

Patch has contacted the Community Coalition on Race and school district Superintendent Brian Osborne for comment, and will add their remarks when they become available.

The text of the NAACP Resolution:


Whereas, the South Orange/Maplewood school district has declared that its current educational enterprise lacks equity for all of its students; and 

Whereas, a segregated school district does not promote equal opportunities for all students; and

Whereas the most recent proposed changes to "leveling", provides only modest modification to the existing school enterprise; and

Whereas, the proposed changes do not generate an immediate solution to the lack of equity, which exists within the South Orange/Maplewood school district; and

Whereas, the Oranges and Maplewood, NAACP believes that the existing segregated school district's policies are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights' Act 1964  which " . . prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding . . ." ; and

Therefore, Be It Resolved on this 15th day of June, 2010 that the General Membership of the Oranges & Maplewood NAACP seeks the assistance of the National Office of the NAACP in order to determine the appropriate legal remedies to address the segregated school environment, which exists within the South Orange/Maplewood school district.

BullsandBears July 13, 2010 at 06:38 PM
This is an outrage, I find myself at vomitting's door step as the NAACP/Joke takes aim at my beloved school district. How about an article that talks about young African American kids more concerned with MTV than they are academics, thus leading to them falling behind when compared to their white peers. i wonder if Indian or Asian groups will take aim at the school district as well. I'm African-American myself so this may come as a shock to both the NAACP and the African American parents in the district, but the problem with your kids and their academic achievements, or apparent lack thereof are two-fold. One, when you move into town from lets say, Irvington, you are already miles away from the standard set by school districts curriculum. Cause Irvington doesn't assign Cat in the Hat until 8th grade. By then it should be more like Great Gatsby, or Catcher in the Rye. Second, YOUR kid is too busy on the cell phone and talking to his homeboy about the 50 Cent concert last night as opposed to paying attention, while our white so called counterparts are absorbing the lesson plan like they wrote it themselves. Im speaking from experience here so I can't possibly be wrong. The difference is MY PARENTS didn't go run to the NAACP as a bailout, my dad simply put his foot in my rear end, thus resulting in graduating from a four year college, obtaining and MBA in finance and becoming an African-American VP on Wall Street. Get some, RJ
Karen July 13, 2010 at 08:31 PM
I am a product of the SOMSD, and a teacher myself. Degregation will not solve these problems because they exist all over. How can removal of AP courses close the achievement gap? Removing leveling may increase self esteem and motivation for low performing students but it also removes motivation and incentive from high achieving students. What this says to me is we will "dumb down" instruction in hopes the low performing students will meet us halfway and lower our standards for the high achieving students so they don't have to try as hard. The students in the AP courses and the level 4 classes are there because they earned it, just as those who were placed else. As RJ said, if you want your kids in level 4 classes that is up to you as the parents to help them get there. Parent involvement is diminishing and I see firsthand how parents make or break their child's education. It's not a racial issue, it's the breakdown of the family unit. Stop blaming the teachers and stop making excuses. Take an interest in your child's education. By taking away AP classes on top of the loss of teachers and programs due to Gov Christie's budget cuts (not to mention financing a law suit against the NAACP)- say goodbye to your Blue Ribbon, Columbia. I'm watching Columbia and South Orange-Maplewood go down in flames and it's only a matter of time before my beloved town gets swallowed up Newark/Irvington and we are left with memories of how it used to be.
MJB July 13, 2010 at 11:48 PM
I have 2 children at South Mountain and have been desperately trying to argue to my family and friends that there was no need to send my children (African American) to private school when they hit middle and high school. The deleving of the middle school put a serious dent in that arguement but I figured I had time on my side as my children (who are excellent students) had a few years before getting to SOMS and maybe things would change. If this NAACP lawsuit goes through and the school system is deleveled - I see absolutely no reason to remain in South Orange as I would be paying foolishy high taxes for a school system I could not use as I would have to send my kids to private school. While I understand the NAACP needs to be concerned about the community, this lawsuit would be at the detriment of those minority students who are at the top of their classes, taking AP courses and going on to excellent colleges. The NAACP lawsuit and subsequent deleving would only force the schools performance down as the best and the brightest (black, white, hispanic...) would all head for better schools. The day the high school is deleved is the day we find a new town to live in.
Liz Hoyt August 08, 2010 at 02:27 PM
I have worked for SOMA and really became discouraged when I saw the extent of the segregation of classes and opportunities by race. SOMA should look at itself, stop being in total denial, and start integrating classes and opportunities from k to 12. The NAACP has lots of courage to stand up to an entrenched, highly aggressive white community, highly competitive social environments, and make their stand. I am impressed. I wish SOMA parents and community would look to themselves and try to make their schools more inclusive, and more effective.
Bernard Ryan October 09, 2010 at 08:42 PM
Good to see someone taking a stand to end a practice harmful to all but a few students. Back in the nineties the district was advised to end middle school tracking. One school even tried to group heterogeneously, but was shot down by elitist elements on the then board. Hopefully, the currtent board and administration will change this policy for sound educational reasons, without it becoming the issue of blatant racism they were warned about fifteen years ago


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