Newark, like so many other urban districts, just went through a round of neighborhood school closings. The pattern seems to be the same in every city: an autocratic mayor or a conservative governor comes in and disenfranchises the local citizens (see New York City, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, etc.).
A regime of charter schools is set up, segregating the children by language, disability, socio-economic status, and, yes, even race. Outsiders then begin a propaganda campaign, convincing both the citizens of the city and the media-at-large that they are offering parents "choice," even though that "choice" is between under-funded, crumbling neighborhood public schools and charters that may have more resources but also impose a rigid and authoritarian learning style on their students.
Inevitably, parents and other concerned members of the community start standing up and demanding that their voices be heard. The response of those in charge is to run away from criticism (Newark) or suppress criticism through anti-democratic practices limiting free speech (Milwaukee, Chicago). When autocratic school authorities ignore the will of the people, what options do citizens have left?
PULSE shows us one: using the law to show that the practices of segregating students and disenfranchising parents are violations of civil rights. PULSE has petitioned the USDOE's Office For Civil Rights to investigate whether the closing of several schools in Newark is discriminatory against students based on race, national origin, or disability. And the federal government has now said there is enough evidence to launch an investigation.
I don't see how anyone can say that Newark's charter schools don't discriminate; even the infamous NJ CREDO report clearly shows a pattern of segregation. The work of Dr. Bruce Baker and others highlights a disturbing trend of racial, language, and learning disability segregation within the Newark charter system. And the NJDOE has such laughably weak regulations to enforce equity of access to charters that there is no reason to believe they will be forced to desegregate any time soon.
The school closings in Newark are a direct result of this charter expansion. Further, we know that the schools the NJDOE lists as "Priority" serve many more racial minorities and students in poverty than those listed as "Reward":
The strategy of closing "failed" schools is mired in racial and economic bias, as is the disenfranchisement of urban communities from running their own school districts. It is most certainly a civil rights issue, and it needs to be fought on those grounds.
Many thanks to the brave parents who are taking a stand in Newark. We'll all be watching with great interest.