School Segregation and Equity in New Jersey


Nearly 100 education, civil rights, labor, faith and local elected leaders gathered on November 30, 2018 to discuss the pressing issue of school segregation in New Jersey.

The symposium organized by the Urban League of Essex County and Building One New Jersey held at Bloomfield College grappled with “problem, consequences and solutions to New Jersey's racially segregated schools”.

The convening included experts, civil rights lawyers and historians and well as educators, parents and practitioners.

Vivian Cox Fraser, CEO of the Urban League of Essex County said the purpose was to “promote discussion and honest dialogue as well as to seek input about possible remedies to the lawsuit”.

The Urban League of Essex County is one of the plaintiffs in a sweeping lawsuit against the state of New Jersey arguing that New Jersey schools are “intensely segregated” and in violation of the state’s own constitution.

Civil Rights Lawyer and retired Rutgers professor Paul Tractenberg presented data from a new report he co-authored, the New Promise of School Integration and the Old Problem of Extreme Segregation: An Action Plan for New Jersey. 

Historians Leslie Wilson from Montclair State University and Khalil Gibran Muhammad of the Harvard Kennedy School provided historical context and personal stories that highlighted the underlying causes as well as the political, social and economic structures underpinning segregation in our society.

Professor Muhammad told the gathering that historically segregated schools were “no accident”. Their purpose, he said, was, and is, “to prepare black children for a life of servitude”. Professor Wilson warned of unintended but harmful consequences from previous efforts to achieve integration saying “we have to think hard and carefully about the outcomes we want from a meaningful school desegregation remedy”.

After a brief presentation on a draft framework for a legislative remedy by Building One New Jersey, a panel of five superintendents from an array of diverse school districts gave their reaction and provided some of their thoughts on the issue.

Thomas Ficarra, South Orange Maplewood School District, shared his experiences serving in three diverse suburban school districts: Morristown, Hamilton (Mercer County) and n0w Maplewood / South Orange School. Dr. Kendra Johnson of Montclair Public Schools talked of the importance of power dynamics when addressing racial disparities. Dr. Miguel Hernandez of Haledon Public Schools spoke about the role of relationship building among students and parents as key to success in his district. Dr. Christine Johnson cautioned about the role of private and charter schools in perpetuating segregation in an otherwise diverse district. Finally, Dr. Rocco Tomazic of Freehold Borough argued that while there were many problems to consider in addressing school segregation, a "bigger and bolder" approach to a remedy was the better way to go.

Audience members including labor leaders, local elected officials, parents and school board members, weighed in with comments and questions that reinforced the sentiment that big and bold over meek and mild was the direction the group wanted to go.

Conference organizers and participants agreed to hold similar gatherings across the state with practitioners and stakeholders and to engage legislative leadership about advancing a meaningful and inclusive process for addressing the problem and the lawsuit.






School Segregation and Equity in New Jersey

Sponsored by the Urban League of Essex County and Building One New Jersey.  



Khalil Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School


Paul Tractenberg, Rutgers Law School, Professor of Law Emeritus Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor

Dr. Kendra Johnson, Montclair Public Schools Superintendent

Thomas Ficarra, South Orange Maplewood School District, Interim Superintendent

Vivian Cox Fraser, President & CEO, Urban League of Essex County

Rocco Tomazic, Freehold Borough Public Schools, Superintendent

Christine Johnson, Hoboken School District, Superintendent

Leslie Wilson, Montclair State University, Associate Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences 

Miguel Hernandez, Haledon Public Schools, Superintendent

Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, Board Member, Bloomfield College







Robyn Brady Ince, Vice President, Education Policy and Advocacy, National Urban League