By Benjamin Todd Jealous
For 102 years, the NAACP has fought to ensure that all our
children have access to high-quality public education. Our
founders made improving education our primary strategy for
improving America. They did so because they knew from
experience that educational inequities are not only the
product of broader inequalities and dangerous social
tensions but also maintain them.
We believe that if we make all our schools great places to
learn, we will have more than better institutions and
better-prepared students - we will have a better country.
Toward this end, we filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of
New York City's public schoolchildren and their parents.
The NAACP has a long history in New York. One hundred years
ago this month, our first local branch in the nation was
founded in Harlem. Since then, thousands upon thousands of
New York students, parents and grandparents have
volunteered with the NAACP to end the mistreatment of
This lawsuit was filed for the most common reasons we have
sued boards of education across the decades: Students are
being grossly mistreated, their parents are being deeply
disrespected and the entire community stands to suffer.
There are two issues we are particularly concerned about.
First, the city has located charter schools under the same
roofs as traditional public schools in a way that is unfair
and unjust. Their poor handling has led to many complaints
from our members and their neighbors, including:
* Students in the traditional public school must now
eat lunch at 10 a.m. so that charter school students
can enjoy lunch at noon.
* The "regular school's children" had library access
for a little over four hours so that the "new
charter school's kids" could have access for almost
* Traditional school students" were moved to a
basement, where they were next to the boiler room,
to make room for their charter school peers, and
teachers of the regular students were forced to
teach in the halls due to lack of space.
We are asking that the court require the city to follow
state law and handle these shared space situations
Second, inequitable co-locations exacerbate the problem
created by the city's persistent failure to follow the law
and engage parents before making major changes. New York
state law requires the city to involve parents before
announcing its intention to shut down a school or make way
for a charter to share a school's space.
We filed suit against the city in February 2010. New York
City's Department of Education lost the case in March 2010
and lost its appeal in July 2010. Yet it continued to close
schools without regard for the law or a court order
enforcing the law. The lawsuit we filed last month asks the
court to enforce its judgment requiring the city to
collaborate with communities on efforts to support and
improve local schools before it shuts them - something the
city has failed to do time and again.
The city's actions impede learning, increase tensions among
students and tear at the fabric of communities. When one set
of students is perceived as getting preferential treatment
over another, or the city refuses to work with parents to
fix problems at a school before closing it, the inequity
leaves all our children suffering.
Some have criticized the NAACP for joining the teachers
union in this cause. Unable to refute the facts of our case,
these critics question our motives, apparently also unable
to comprehend that we are independent actors.
We have always been clear that just as we praise teachers
for dedicating their lives to a heroic profession, we have
no tolerance for bad teachers or bad schools. To spur the
changes needed to help students succeed, we even stood with
many of these critics when a Rhode Island district fired all
the teachers at Central Falls High School.
For a century, the NAACP has practiced the maxim that
often reminded us of: There are no
permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent
interests. In this case, as with our past education cases,
our permanent interest is clear: High-quality public
education for all children and a stronger nation for us all.
[Benjamin Todd Jealous president and CEO of the NAACP.]