The New Jersey Coalition for Diverse and Inclusive Schools (NJCDIS) is a New Jersey non‐profit corporation dedicated to redressing the intense racial and economic segregation in New Jersey public schools through community outreach, education, with government officials, and litigation.
During the tenure of Justice Gary S. Stein (Ret.) as an Associate Justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court, the state of New Jersey battled for decades before the Court in the Abbott v. Burke litigation, which at the time was considered to be the most important education litigation in New Jersey for poor and minority schoolchildren since Brown v. Board of Education. Although the Abbott litigation addressed disparity in funding New Jersey’s schools and resulted in the state agreeing to a funding formula for certain school districts, that litigation never directly confronted racial and socio-economic segregation.
After retiring from the bench and acquiring a deeper understanding of the magnitude and negative educational impact of New Jersey’s segregated schools, and despite the reforms arising out of the Abbott litigation, Justice Stein was inspired to form NJCDIS, bringing together notable activists, educators, and lawyers to tackle one of the most difficult and important racial justice issues of our time. Other founders of NJDICS include Elise Boddie, a Rutgers law professor and former Director of Litigation, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc, and Paul Tractenberg, a retired Rutgers law professor.
Data shows that New Jersey has one of the most severely segregated public-school systems in the country. And although the segregation that exists in New Jersey is de facto, not mandated by law, New Jersey courts have declared de facto segregation unconstitutional since the 1960s. This de facto segregation arises from a variety of factors, including that New Jersey state law requires children to attend schools in the municipalities where they live and that many of those municipalities are segregated. Additional factors include discriminatory zoning practices in suburbs, discriminatory policies by federal housing authorities, poverty, and personal choice.
Because of that intense segregation, thousands of New Jersey children will never have the opportunity to learn, socialize, engage in athletics, or interact with children from racial backgrounds different from their own. Decades of confirmed research has demonstrated that children of all races who attend schools that are diverse do better academically, attend and graduate high school and college at higher rates, and have far more significant and positive interactions with people of different races and ethnicities throughout their lives.
Concluding that the intolerable level of segregation in New Jersey could only be redressed by legal action, the NJDCIS began to coordinate efforts to file a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey. With pro bono legal assistance from NJCDIS Trustees Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C and Michael S. Stein of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, together with their teams, a lawsuit was filed on May 17, 2018, the 64th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The plaintiffs, the Latino Action Network, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, the Latino Coalition, the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey, the Urban League of Essex County, and seven children of various racial backgrounds, allege that persistent segregation has violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Jersey’s students. The case is ongoing.
We believe this litigation reflects a groundbreaking effort that may prove to be among the most important social justice reforms of our time.