Civil Rights Lawsuits Filed: South Orange / Maplewood Parents Demand Schools Open

Parents are willing to put up with a lot, but they will not sacrifice their children on the altar of public education.

Public schools have never been perfect.  From education gaps to special education costs, our schools have always faced issues to a degree that isn’t seen in most private educational settings.  But those were problems we knew and were dedicated to addressing.

We addressed them in schools.

But now?

Attorney Scott Greenfield noted on his blog, Simple Justice:

Much as Republicans need to figure out whether they want to be the party of conservatism or the Cult of Trump, the Democrats need to figure out whether they want to be the party of public sector unions or the party of education, children and, most particularly, the party of marginalized children.

The reaction of Teachers unions across the Country has been obstructionist.  In Chicago, they have refused to go to work even after being sued by the City.  It’s a similar story in Pasco County, Washington where teachers call the reopening of school, white supremacy.

It’s happening here in NJ in Montclair.
(Schools Were Set to Reopen. Then the Teachers’ Union Stepped In – NYT)

In South Orange / Maplewood, parents have had enough and are taking action to force the local school boards to provide them with the basic and fundament rights of a Free and Fair Education.

Our kids won’t be this age again and if the unions won’t become any more reasonable in the future, what other options are there besides a Civil Rights lawsuit?

Hopefully we won’t find out.

Today, Schools Superintendent Dr. Irving sent out the following:

Dear Teaneck Parents/Guardians, Students & Staff,

I am pleased to announce that we are about to enter the final phase of our Return to School plans. Effective Monday, March 1, we will welcome back our High School students and staff – following a cohort model. Further, with the support of our Board of Education, we will resume winter and spring Junior Varsity athletics – with winter sports returning effective immediately. Varsity sports are already in progress.

It is important to note that the beginning of the fourth marking period is nearly upon us (after spring break); and as promised, parents/guardians will once again have the opportunity to “opt-in” for their child to return for the final marking period of this school year. We will be sending out more information on this very soon.

Additionally, I want to make sure you are aware of some upcoming district events and “happenings”:

  • On Wednesday, February 24, the District will begin its series of Budget Presentations for the 2021-2022 school year.  All are welcome to join the Zoom webinar:  Board Budget Meeting

  • The District is hosting a series of Mental Health Programs for parents – one per month through June.  For more information, go to: Mental Health Parent Series

  • Preschool applications for the 2021-2022 school year are now available and must be returned by March 5.  For more information, Preschool Applications

  • The 2021-2022 District Calendar has been approved by our Board of Education and can be viewed here:  2021-2022 District Calendar

Lastly, I want to take a moment to publicly thank our faculty and staff for getting us through the past few weeks. We knew that the re-opening of our schools during a pandemic would not be without some challenges. But we are working collaboratively to manage through, and I am especially proud of the outstanding efforts of our faculty who are simultaneously teaching a group of students at home and in-person.

Our students continue to be our primary focus and for their sake, I am committed to keeping our school doors opened. If we are going to accomplish this successfully, it is extremely important for everyone to closely follow our COVID-19 protocols and above all, please do not send a child to school if they are sick. This pandemic is not over, and we want to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Best regards,

Dr. Christopher Irving, Superintendent of Schools

Stay tuned for updates.

You can read the South Orange / Maplewood Civil Rights complaint here: Federal Action filed against School Board

From the Complaint:

3.  M.R.D. is a Special Education student with an Individual Education Plan (“IEP”). In late November 2020, M.R.D. began refusing school due to heightened levels of anxiety that was caused by school closures and remote learning. As a first-year middle schooler, she has not had any social interactions with any of her teachers or peers. Her social and emotional growth has stunted. M.R.D. has regressed with respect to everything she has achieved when she first became a recipient of the District’s special education services approximately two years ago, academically, and otherwise. When pressed, her special education case manager and Dr. Alegria, the head of Special Education in the South Orange-Maplewood School District, recognized M.R.D.’s issues but advised that there was nothing they could or would do to help her because that would require them to help other children as well.


4.  M.D.D. a ninth grader at Columbia High School came to the district from the local parochial school. With having only two days in school to date, she… suffers emotionally as she has not made any new friends and remains home alone and isolated, spending most of her day on harmful social media apps such as TicToc.


6.  Q.O.K. has consistently tested in the top percentiles and has performed in the classroom accordingly. Since the onset of remote learning, his performance has dropped significantly to the equivalent of consistent “C” grade or “D” graded work. And his emotional well-being and interest in school have waned. More recently he has complained of frequent headaches after prolonged sessions in front of the computer.


13.  H.S. (7 years old in 2nd Grade) used to love learning and going to school. In the spring, when the schools first closed, he had almost no interaction with his teacher, and as a result of two parents who worked full time and could not take on the level of instruction that was necessary, he learned very little between mid-March and June, with the exception of some reading that he did with his grandmother, and some math that he did with his grandfather…. He is having outbursts and tantrums daily like a 4-year old, and often says he is “stupid” and “the dumbest kid in the class.”


19.  Plaintiffs are extremely worried about L.M.S. The boy who he was in March of2020 is not the boy he is now. He is severely depressed and his lack of drive, excitement and zest for learning and just being generally social, albeit always selectively, has all but vanished at this point.

Nature of the Action:

29.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Defendants have effectively put the interests of the children they serve dead last. With their arbitrary rules that fly in the face of the recommendations of experts across different disciplines, the children of the District have been deprived of their right to an education. Sadly, there has been no one to speak for our children over the last ten months as they silently suffered with remote learning. This lawsuit seeks to remedy the situation on their behalf.

30.  This Action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S. C. § 1983, on the grounds that Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ constitutionally and federally protected rights, including specifically: (1) the right to substantive due process (U.S. Canst. amend. XIV); (2) the right to equal protection, free from arbitrary treatment by the State (U.S. Canst. amend. XIV); (3) the right to equal and meaningful access to education, free from arbitrary state action resulting in a disparate impact on those with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq.; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq.)).

31.  With the school year still operating remotely almost a year after the District schools were closed, time is of the essence. The Court should not hesitate to secure Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights in securing a basic minimum education for their children are preserved and protected from Defendants’ arbitrary actions.

Current State of Affairs:

47. Since March 13, 2020, Defendants have only offered a total of four days of in person learning for students in PreK though second grade, sixth grade and ninth grade. Students in grades three to five, seven and eight, and ten through twelve had had no in-person instruction since March 13, 2020.

Does this sound familiar?

This isn’t the first case filed.

55.  Pending in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey is the action of Dembiec, et als, v. Scotch Plains Fanwood Regional School District, Civil Action No.: 20-cv-20188. The Dembiec Complaint outlines the relevant scientific studies that collectively show that COVID-19 is not a risk amongst school aged children See Exhibit “H.”. Plaintiffs hereby incorporate the paragraphs of the Dembiec Complaint as though fully set forth herein.