The Mercer County Superior Court heard arguments into whether the state’s history of segregating Black and Latino students from public schools should end.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy will soon decide whether the state must create and implement a school desegregation plan, hold a trial to gather more evidence, or dismiss the case entirely.

Attorneys for nine students, their parents/guardians and a coalition of civil rights, religious, and social justice organizations argued that the state’s laws, policies, and practices that deny Black and Latino students are in direct violation of the State Constitution.

“No child should ever be hurt, but that is exactly what is happening in New Jersey because of laws and policies that segregate the public school system,” said Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, a plaintiff in the case. “Relegating Black, Latino, and low-income students to a subpar education doesn’t just impact grades and test scores, it affects their job prospects, earning potential, and college outcomes.”

Known as Latino Action Network vs. the State of New Jersey, the lawsuit specifically challenges state laws that require students to attend schools in the geographic locations where they live, impacting a large number of Black and Latino students in lower-income and isolated areas.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2018, cites national research that shows that segregation in the state is “among the worst in the country.” It goes on to say that “these segregative State laws, policies and practices also violate those students’ constitutional rights under other provisions of the New Jersey Constitution that prohibit racial segregation in public schools and guarantee all New Jersey residents the equal protection of the laws.”

In the complaint, plaintiffs argue that segregation does not only impact Black and Latino students, but white students, as well. These students face greater risks of adopting prejudicial views due to the lack of diverse interaction, creating “a two-way system of racial stereotyping, stigma, fear, and hostility that obscures individuality and denies all concerned the recognized benefits of diversity in education.”

“There’s no room in our state for policies that rob our young people, especially young Black people, of opportunities to become successful, thriving adults,” said the Rev. Charles Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice, a Black faith rooted New Jersey organization supporting the case. “We must abolish state enforced zip code barriers and all policies that undergird state sponsored segregation. It’s well past time that these draconian laws and practices finally end.”

In response to the case, the state’s lawyers reportedly said that the plaintiffs have no proof that segregation in schools is a statewide issue.

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