Federal segregation complaint filed against Red Bank Charter School
Two groups have filed a federal complaint against Red Bank Charter School, alleging discriminatory practices in enrollment and asking that the school be closed.
Fair Schools Red Bank, a group of parents at Red Bank Borough Public Schools, and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey filed the complaint to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday, accusing the charter school of violating a consent order requiring it to have demographics that match the school-age population of Red Bank. The complaint blamed the charter school for making Red Bank "the most segregated school district in the state of New Jersey."
Red Bank Charter School Principal Meredith Pennotti defended her school in a statement.
"It’s sad this small group that seems bent on further dividing the community has chosen to file a meritless complaint against our school," she said. "The fact is our student body more closely reflects the borough's school-age population than the district schools.
"How this group can willfully ignore this fact is truly an indication of how desperate they have become in their zeal to close a school that has served children of Red Bank well for nearly two decades."
Data from the state Department of Education show divergent demographics in the two schools, both of which serve students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
Red Bank Borough Schools' population is 89 percent economically disadvantaged, compared to just 41 percent at the charter school. Economically disadvantaged students are those who get free or reduced-price lunch.
Additionally, 38 percent of district school students have limited proficiency in English; only 3.5 percent of the charter school students fall into this category. The charter school is 50 percent white, while the borough schools are about 7 percent white, enrollment data show. Hispanics comprise 81 percent of the borough schools, compared to 38.5 percent of the charter school. Both schools are about 10 percent black.
The Justice Department acknowledged receiving a copy of the complaint, but wouldn't comment about any action it would take. The New Jersey Department of Education also received the complaint, but declined to address it.
"I'm amenable to anything that just levels the playing field," said Wayne Woolley, a parent with daugthers at Red Bank Borough Schools and a member of Fair Schools Red Bank. He added that enrollment at the charter schools "violates my fundamental sense of fairness."
The complaint says that the charter school has a higher percentage of white students than the school-age population of the borough and a lower percentage of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Woolley said those numbers are based on research done by the borough school and factors in Red Bank students who don't attend the borough school.
In an op-ed written last week in the Press, Pennotti said the school-age population of Red Bank is 41 percent white, 40 percent Latino and 18 percent black, which is close to the charter school's demographics. That data come from the Census Bureau and the complaint says it includes everyone under the age of 18 in Red Bank, not just school-aged kids.
In an effort to make the school more diverse, Red Bank Charter began a weighted lottery this year that gives preference to economically disadvantaged students. Pennotti acknowledged changing the schools demographics to better mirror Red Bank will be a slow process.
“How long is that going to take? Forever," she said. "But we’re working on it.”
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