RED BANK: ACLU ENTERS CHARTER BATTLE

CPA Scott Landau turns a drum as business administrator Theresa Shirley looks on during the charter school enrollment lottery last April. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03The American Civil Liberties Union has joined two other organizations already waging war on the Red Bank Charter School‘s existence.

The ACLU of New Jesey said Thursday that, along with Fair Schools Red Bank and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey , it would appeal the state Department of Education’s decision earlier this week to allow the 19-year-old school to operate for at least another five years.

In a press release, the ACLU said the DOE granted the renewal “despite widespread evidence of discrimination based on race and ethnicity” by the Oakland Street-based K-8.

From the release:

RBCS was re-chartered on March 1 for another five years by the NJDOE despite evidence that its existence has not only perpetuated, but exacerbated, segregation in Red Bank’s schools. The racial composition of RBCS’s student body does not reflect that of the municipality’s student-aged population. Despite the fact that RBCS and Red Bank Borough Public Schools (RBBPS) pull students from the same geographic region, white students are significantly over-represented at RCBS while Latino students are significantly under-represented compared to the public schools…

“This charter renewal perpetuates and institutionalizes a segregated school system, in violation of the New Jersey Constitution,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Yet the Commissioner endorsed a system wherein Red Bank has crafted two sub-districts: one for the majority of white students and one for mostly Latino students. That is unlawful, discriminatory, and against public policy.”

The charter school disputes the allegations of segregation, and maintains that its 200 students are 43 percent white, 43 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African-American, “closely reflecting the school-age population of Red Bank, which is 36 percent white, 39 percent Hispanic and 25 percent African American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey 2010-14 five-year estimates.”

Here’s a prepared statement by Principal Meredith Pennotti in response to a request for comment:

We fully anticipated that these groups would continue their assault on Red Bank Charter School. But with so much segregation in New Jersey schools, it’s ironic that the ACLU would target one of the few schools in the state that is racially and ethnically integrated. Red Bank Charter School is 53 percent black and Latino, not majority white as the ACLU incorrectly claims.
Acting state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington took the ACLU’s arguments into consideration when she reviewed our renewal application and dismissed them for good reason. The ACLU is merely recycling the same arguments that were previously rejected by the state Appellate Division in 2004.
We thank Commissioner Harrington for giving us another five years to continue providing students an opportunity to learn and grow in an integrated school immersed in one another’s culture and experiences. We’re preparing students, not only for the world in which they live, but for the one they will inherit as adults.

Here’s the 2004 appellate court ruling referred to in the statement.

In November, Fair Schools Red Bank and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey filed a joint complaint asking federal and state authorities to “investigate and ultimately remedy” enrollment and funding practices at charter school that they claim make the borough’s public schools the “most segregated” in New Jersey.

They contend that only 10 percent of the borough’s school-aged children are white, and that whites are over-represented at the charter school. By contrast, they note, the 1,4oo students at the Red Bank primary and middle school are more than 80 percent Hispanic, which they contend more reflects the available student population.

The civil rights division of the federal Department of Education said in January that it was investigating the claim.

For the second year in a row, the charter school has scheduled a weighted enrollment lottery to improve the chances that socio-economically disadvantaged children win seats at the school. Applications are due March 29, with a public drawing slated for March 30.

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