TRENTON – Civil-rights and education advocacy groups are asking an administrative law judge to direct the state Department of Education to begin writing down required yearly assessments of whether charter schools add to segregation.

New Jersey has one of the nation’s most segregated school systems, and a broader lawsuit has been filed seeking to force the state to address it. The latest salvo is more targeted and seeks information about whether charters add to segregation, whether by race, disability or language proficiency.

Under a 2000 ruling by the state Supreme Court and follow-up rules adopted by the state, the Department of Education is to check yearly on whether charter schools serve populations similar to their host districts.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the group asked to see copies of the reviews and was surprised to learn that the practice for years has been to not write them down.

“They claim that they do the assessments every year, look at the student composition of charter schools, see how it relates to district schools, but they never commit it to writing, so it’s impossible to know whether it’s actually done. There’s no record of it,” Sciarra said.

As a result, Sciarra said it’s not possible to learn whether charters are serving populations comparable to their home districts and sufficient numbers of students with disabilities.

“I guess they’re in the current commissioner and her predecessor’s heads, because we don’t know – there’s no written record of any of it,” Sciarra said.

In its administrative petition, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, Latino Action Network, Latino Coalition of New Jersey, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, Save Our Schools New Jersey, Building One America and the Network for Public Education ask that the information be put in writing and published online.

“So that legislators know, we know, advocates know,” Sciarra said. “The charter school people themselves need to know this.”

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“Without a written record, we have no way to know if the Commissioner even does the assessment, much less if charter schools are contributing to student segregation,” said the Rev. Dr. Willie Francois of Building One America.

“The absence of a written record not only prevents the Commissioner from doing his or her job, it also thwarts any attempt by parents and the broader public to hold charter schools, the commissioner, and the state accountable,” said Diana Autin, executive director of SPAN.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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