New Jersey schools are racially segregated. A judge can change that.

I grew up in Little Rock, Ark., in the 1990s, the place where nine black students entered Central High School in 1957. This integration was only made possible when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops in Little Rock to protect these nine black students. students.

Corn school segregation is not a southern problem, nor confined to the past. The problem is widespread and may exist more severely in northern states.

Consider New Jersey. The state maintains a sprawling public education system with 674 school districts, 2,514 public schools, and nearly 1.4 million public school students. A majority of black and Latino students attend predominantly non-white schools. Students, teachers, parents and concerned members of the community hope that an ongoing lawsuit will correct this injustice.

After years of delays caused by procedural tactics and the pandemic, a New Jersey Superior Court judge will hear oral arguments on Thursday in Latino Action Network v. New Jersey and whether laws, policies and practices that racially segregate our public schools should end.

In ruling on the case, the judge has the opportunity to do what the state legislature and chief executive have refused to do for years: declare that New Jersey schools are unlawfully racially and economically segregated. , and demand that the state begin the process of remediation of these decades – long problem. If so, New Jersey has the opportunity to end school segregation and ensure all of its students have access to a quality public education.

To be clear, school segregation is not isolated to New Jersey. There are nearly 50 million public school students in the United States. Almost half of these students are white (46%) and the other half are black and Latino (43%). A judge’s finding in the case that New Jersey’s segregated schools violate the Constitution would provide persuasive authority to advocates across the country seeking to end school segregation.

The New Jersey lawsuit was filed in 2018 by several civil rights and student organizations on the 64th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The lawsuit argues that New Jersey’s schools, among the most segregated in the nation, harm all students “by creating homogenous learning and social environments.”

“In this case, New Jersey has an opportunity to end school segregation and ensure that all of its students have access to a quality public education.”

Derick D. Dailey

In response, the state, while admitting that segregation exists, seeks to evade legal liability by arguing that it is not responsible for segregation or for solving this problem.

The state’s defense is not convincing. This case is ripe for a ruling in favor of plaintiffs because there is widespread and harmful segregation in New Jersey schools, and the state has a responsibility to address it. New Jersey’s estimated 1.4 million public school students deserve a quality public education, regardless of race, hometown, or socioeconomic status.

There is no doubt that New Jersey’s school segregation is the product of the state’s assignment of students to public schools based on their zip code and a school funding formula that has recently been described as “outdated. and “requiring recalibration” by New Jersey. Political point of view.

This case drew attention to the need for legislative reforms to integrate New Jersey schools. The legislature is currently considering a bill that would create a segregation division within the Department of Education to study segregation.

Unfortunately, the bill fails to allocate funds for the work of the division and does not require any public accountability in the form of public hearings or public reporting. It also fails to center the experiences of students, teachers, and communities.

The bill should be amended to incorporate these elements. Failure to do so demonstrates that the legislature is not taking seriously the challenges students — especially black and Latino students — face in New Jersey public schools.

READ MORE: Philadelphia schools still segregated as suburban districts integrate, analysis finds

As a former middle school teacher, I am aware of the impact segregated schools can have on students. As a lawyer and student of history, I am also aware that progress in the fight for civil and human rights is most often left to the courts.

I hope that as the New Jersey court considers the facts and the law, it also considers the students.

Derick D. Dailey is an attorney and senior legal officer at Salvation and Social Justice, a New Jersey-based, black faith-based public policy organization. @dddailey