On May 3rd, 2023, the Statewide Coalition of Educational Equity, which includes leaders from La Casa de Don Pedro, Inc., NAACP, Latino Action Network Foundation, Urban League of Essex County, the People’s Organization for Progress and other powerful voices in New Jersey, will join forces to submit public testimony regarding readoption of N.J.A.C. 6A:7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education. Below are those talking points and testimony from LAN Foundation Youth Organizer, Valeria Posso.
The use of an appropriate, research-based definition of the Opportunity Gap.
Restoration of language around labor and employee rights after the board cited that the language was no longer necessary because they are covered by DOL and CBAs.
Expansion of protected classes for formerly incarcerated individuals and students with substance abuse issues.
Inclusion of HIB and other relevant data points in analysis of equity framework.
Replacement of the Comprehensive Equity Plan documents with an actual framework similar to the Tennessee framework.
Changes to the streamlining of information/language regarding race.
Valeria Posso - Latino Action Network Foundation:
My name is Valeria Posso and my testimony today is on behalf of the Latino Action Network Foundation. In May of 2018, the Latino Action Network, the NAACP, and other statewide partners filed a landmark lawsuit citing the continued existence of school segregation in NJ. While we know in research and morals that ‘separate is not equal,’ NJ has yet to accept liability or find a solution to address the pervasive educational inequities facing Black and Latino children. And, while we all await a decision as to how the State of NJ and the State Department of Education plans to address de facto segregation, we believe it is imperative that the readoption of any equity policies be transparent, accessible to communities, parents, and students, and have accountability measures in place.
For the last three years, I have been working on the ground with students and young people around educational equity and representation in their schools and communities. Latino communities represent 23% of the state’s population and have demonstrated a significant increase in school enrollment and attendance. But, too many Latino students are more likely to be trapped in segregated school districts, sit in overcrowded classrooms, have less access to mental health resources, and lack support around accessing their bilingual education needs as well as social engagement with non-bilingual students which takes away from the full school experience. And, these are only a few of the most obvious issues facing Latino students. Many Latino students are living in intergenerational households where their parents are the main breadwinners which leaves students with after school responsibilities of older family members and younger siblings. The lived experience of Latino students is intersectional and includes economic disparities, racism by other students and school staff, substance abuse issues, disproportionate disciplinary surveillance and policing of their behavior in school, and LGBTQ issues.
And these educational disparities were known and documented before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a July 2022 article by the COURTHOUSENEWS.COM, 70% of Latino parents believed their children experienced significant learning challenges during the pandemic. Nearly half said they do not have people or resources in their community to overcome those challenges. Latino students were also more likely to attend high-poverty schools that participated in remote learning for longer. Those schools experienced the most significant declines in achievement growth. Also, an executive summary done by the the State of NJ in partnership with Rutgers Center for State Health Policy revealed a third (34%) of parents report that their school-aged children have poor or only fair mental health, 65% report they are very or somewhat concerned about their children’s mental well-being, and 40% report they are very or somewhat concerned about their children’s behavior because of COVID-19.
It is our collective responsibility to address the learning loss and equity needs of all NJ students in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to make the following comments for the State Board of Education to take into consideration in the process of readopting the (New Jersey Administrative Code) N.J.A.C. 6A:7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education.
Transparency and Accessibility - All codes and equities should be publicly available and translated to the top languages represented in school districts. School districts should make concerted efforts to inform the school community of their efforts to bridge equity needs and provide information for parents and students on accountability. Also, the guidelines for reporting should a student or parent have trouble accessing their equity needs in a local school district. We believe that the State Department of Education should develop a collaboration or an office within the Attorney General’s office and the NJ Division of Civil Rights so that the Department of Education is not in charge of policing itself.
Protected classes for students should be expanded to include students with substance use/misuse problems and students who are formerly incarcerated or in immigrant detention, as well as students who have a parent who has been incarcerated or detained/deported because of immigration status. Resources and support should be provided to students facing this issue so that their academic performance is not impacted short or long-term.
Diversity in hiring and curriculum - Teachers who represent communities of color are more likely to enter their profession with significant student debt and family financial responsibilities. Therefore, equity strategies should include strategic and funded efforts to support Black and Latino teachers to bridge the racial wealth gap.
Ensuring access to learning evaluations and special needs assessments for English language learners that is free from American bias around language and accents. Concerted efforts should be put in place so that students can access learning assessments in a timely basis and as a form of early intervention as opposed to after a potential grade retention.
Please note that we also submitted a request that there be more extensive community input and collaboration before adopting these guidelines. We hope that the State Board of Education takes this into consideration. Thank you for your time.