TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The mothers of three Camden boys filed a legal petition Monday asking the state education commissioner to declare that the city’s schools do not meet the constitutional requirement of providing children with a thorough and efficient education, and to find better-performing schools for their sons immediately and for the 15,000 other students in the district soon.
Backed by several groups that call for faster and more drastic fixes to Camden’s troubled schools, the mothers and their lawyers said they cannot wait any longer for long-promised improvements.
“What do we do with children who we know are being deprived of their fundamental right to an education?” lawyer Patricia Bombelyn asked at a news conference in the State House.
The newest filing is a novel approach in a city that has long been the prime example of a school district gone awry.
Thirty-two years ago, another Camden boy, Raymond Abbott, was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that led to an overhaul of the way New Jersey funds its public schools. Back then, the debate was largely over the inadequate funding for schools in impoverished areas. As a result of a string of state Supreme Court decisions, schools in cities such as Camden, Newark and Trenton are now among the best-funded in the state, receiving more than $20,000 per year per student.
But by many measures, the performance at schools in those cities and several others lags well behind.
In Monday’s legal filing, the plaintiffs relied on data compiled by the state Education Department.
Among them: Camden schools make up one-third of the list of the poorest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state. Less than 1 percent of the Camden students who take the SATs score high enough to be considered ready for college. Curriculum guides have been written for the district, but they’re not regularly distributed to teachers.
Maria Roldan, the mother of Emmanuel Roldan, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at the city’s Dudley Elementary School, said her son gets straight As but she knows that his education is suffering. “That’s like Ds at any other school,” she said.
And Sandra Vargas, the mother of another plaintiff, Keanu Vargas, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Pyne Point Family School, said she fears that unless her son can be moved to another school, he’ll fall victim to the same fate as many other Camden high school graduates: spending two years of community college taking remedial classes before getting to do college-level work.
The petitioners did not have a suggestion for how to move students en masse from the district if their request is fulfilled.
Camden’s interim school superintendent, Reuben Mills, did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment. State Education Department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said she needed to get more details before she could comment on the petition.
The state already allows charter schools and has a program that allows students in some cases to go to school free in other public school districts.
But advocates for bigger change say that space is limited in those programs.
Groups supporting Monday’s filing include E3, or Excellent Education for Everyone, the Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey and the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. All of them also support a bill that would use public money to pay for scholarships for students in some New Jersey towns to be able to go to private schools.
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