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Legal appeal planned over court ruling on NJ school segregation


Attorney for families and advocacy groups is set to file appeal by Nov. 10

March 31, 2022: People attend a school desegregation rally in Trenton


A recent and potentially landmark state court ruling on school segregation in New Jersey looks to be headed for more legal argument, as lawyers for the plaintiffs are poised to appeal.

The lead attorney, who represents a mix of civil rights groups and a half-dozen families, said Tuesday that he had asked the court for more time to file the intended appeal.

“Specifically, at issue in this appeal are the fundamental rights of New Jersey’s children to attend public schools without being segregated on the basis of their race or socioeconomic status,” attorney Lawrence Lustberg wrote in his request to the court.


Lustberg said the state had consented to the extension, with a new deadline for the formal appeal to be filed by Nov. 10. His request said “brief-writing is under way.”

In the five-year-old case known as LAN v. State of N.J., state Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy last month released a 99-page summary judgment that cited deep racial gaps in the enrollment of some districts. But Lougy stopped short of saying those gaps were a statewide problem and he did not place requirements on the state to address them.


Constitutional violation?

The plaintiffs have argued that the existing deep racial gaps are nevertheless a constitutional violation on several grounds, including students’ rights to equal protection and a “thorough and efficient” education.


The issue of school segregation in New Jersey is a long-standing one and has been the focus on an ongoing collaborative news series titled Segregated, from NJ Spotlight News, New York Public Radio, Chalkbeat Newark and others news media across the state.

Previously scheduled before the latest court developments, the collaborative is hosting a special panel discussion on the issue at Newark Public Library (main branch) on Thursday night. See more details.


Lustberg on Tuesday acknowledged that this latest step in the case very well may become a long-running legal battle that eventually ends up before the state Supreme Court, similar to the state’s epic Abbott v. Burke and Mount Laurel cases dealing with school funding and housing inequities, respectively.

But Lustberg also said he doesn’t rule out further discussions with the Murphy administration that could reach some agreement outside of court. The two had some settlement talks several years ago that ultimately stalled.

“We are certainly open to talks,” Lustberg told NJ Spotlight News. “But we want to know they are in good faith and likely to be productive.”


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