Civil rights and community groups today slammed the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for renewing Red Bank Charter School’s (RBCS) charter for another five years despite widespread evidence of discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The ACLU of New Jersey, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, and Fair Schools Red Bank announced plans to appeal the decision in court.
The NJDOE renewed the charter in spite of opposition from the three organizations based on disturbing racial disparities between the majority-white student body of the charter school and the heavily Latino Red Bank Borough Public Schools. Independent of state-based advocacy, the federal government is investigating the charter school’s civil rights practices.
"We are disappointed but unfortunately not surprised," said Frank Argote-Freyre, Director of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey. "The Christie Administration is not renowned for its advocacy of civil rights. In the area of charter schools they have systematically violated the law when it comes to ensuring that charter schools reflect the demographics of their districts. In case after case, we have found charter schools contributing to segregated environments. The Red Bank Charter School is the worst example in the state of a publicly funded charter school fostering a segregated learning environment.”
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.
"The more than 1,400 public school families represented by Fair Schools Red Bank are disappointed with Acting Commissioner Harrington’s decision,” said Wayne Woolley, a member of Fair Schools Red Bank, which advocates for an end to discriminatory practices in the school district. “Although today is not the day that school segregation draws to a close in Red Bank, our organization is grateful for the ACLU’s willingness to fight on behalf of our children and we believe firmly that justice will ultimately prevail to allow every child in our community equal access to all public education opportunities."
Since the founding of RBCS in 1997, these disparities have worsened. RBBPS comprise primarily Latino students, who account for more than 80 percent of the student body. White students in the district make up less than 10 percent of the public school district, while the charter school is majority white. The renewal incentivizes families who want their children to attend a majority-white school to opt out of the public district for the taxpayer-funded charter. That in turn perpetuates the vast disparity between the high percentage of Latino students and exceedingly low percentage of white students in the Red Bank 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."