NJ schools are intensely segregated along racial and class lines. The concentration of poverty is extreme. In Abbott districts, racial minorities makeup 90-95% of enrollments and students classified as in poverty represent 90-93%
David Sciarra, Education Law Center

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.
Avery Grant, Long Branch, moderated

The South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (SJEJA) held a statewide conference on “The Crisis of Building Schools on Contaminated Sites and Unhealthy Schools in New Jersey” last Saturday at Thomas Edison College in Trenton.
The event focused on huge disparities in educational opportunity and the disproportionate environmental health threats that urban and minority children face at school.
The Conference featured special guest speaker Lois Gibbs, the nationally recognized upstate NY “housewife” who founded the anti toxics movement based on her family experience at the notorious “Love Canal”.

Roy Jones, Co-Chair, SJEJA

Remarkably, the NJ School Construction Corporation (abolished and reestablished as the School Development Authority) has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of educational funds intended to benefit disadvantaged black children on acquisition of contaminated land and construction of schools on toxic waste sites, including Superfund sites. Such a practice would not be tolerated and never happen in wealthy suburban white school districts. Here’s a link to the video of the presentation by SJEJA Co-Chair Roy Jones (thanks to Peter Montague for shooting and sharing video):

David Sciarra, Director, Education Law Center, legal champion of the “Abbott v. Burke” equitable school funding decision

David Sciarra spoke about the continuing challenges facing Abbott districts. He emphasized the need for additional $2.5 billion in school construction funding and the gross segregation and concentration of poverty in the Abbott school districts.
Lois Gibbs was astonished that – 30 years after the tragedy of Love Canal where a community was built on top of a toxic chemical waste dump – that she was speaking in NJ (of all places) to oppose construction of new schools on landfills and toxic waste sites. Gibbs explained how government policies based on cost benefit analysis and risk assessment decide who lives and who dies. “The system is set up to keep us from winning… The results of cost benefit analysis really mean that poor and working class people don’t matter. We are expendable.” she said.

Lois Gibbs, of “Love Canal” fame, Director of the Center for Health, Justice and Environment
Dr. Peter Montague, longtime anti-toxics activist, founder of Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News, and nationally recognized proponent of the Precautionary Principle

Peter Montague, longtime anti-toxics advocate, presented recent scientific findings about health effects of industrial chemicals, which have shown to mimic hormones and impact human growth and reproduction at extremely low levels. He highlighted the ned for a precautionary approach. This would put the burden on the chemical industry to show reasonable evidence of no harm before marketing and introducing chemicals into the environment.

Dr. A.S. Mahdi Ibn Ziyad, Congressional candidate in NJ’s First District, environmental justice activist, teacher and adjunct professor

Dr. Ziyad spoke of the need for social and economic change to promote justice – he is a candidate for Congress in NJ’s 1st Congressional District. He emphasized that one of his platform priorities in environmental justice.

Algernon Ward, chemist adn community activist, Trenton

Algernon Ward presented a case study of successful community organizing to block construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. school in Trenton. Toxic soils were imported to the site and used as “clean fill”. The outraged community organized and forced the SCC to demolish the partially built structure ($27 million loss) and cleanup the site before building a new school there.

  1. nohesitation
    May 9th, 2008 at 14:13 | #1

    Here is link to video – unfortunately the above link is not working. Just cut and paste into your browser to view:

  2. mcmid
    May 9th, 2008 at 14:36 | #2

    David Sciarra views the Abbott decision as a way of promoting urban renewal. As such, Sciarra is willing to allow the use of contaminated areas for schools because the state pays the tab for the clean up. Has Sciarra ever came out against using these pieces of land? New school buildings won’t change the racial make up of schools and the state is using the funding to pay off political donors and buy their tainted properties.

  3. nohesitation
    May 9th, 2008 at 15:00 | #3

    mcmid – you make good points.
    I spoke at the conference and focused exactly on this “brownfields” myth – that complete cleanup of toxic sites is a barier to revitalization and that envrionmental conrols are a cause of urban disinvestment adn decline.
    I urged the EJ advocates to force Sciarra to take a position in opposition to using contaminated lands for schools. Lets see what happens with that.
    Abbott advocates need to understand that the cleanup costs divert money from education.
    Agree also on the segregation issue – a question was asked about that. Separate and equal seems to be the doctrine, which is profoundly racist in my view.
    Agree also about political abuse – patronage – using state education money to pay off friends that own contaminated lands, or cleanup contractors

  4. goodinfo1
    May 9th, 2008 at 16:54 | #4

    Great Blog Bill. The conference focused on many issues and I would like to see it go further. I am unsure how we get Governor Porta-Jon to act.
    Also I think most of the legislature is dead from the neck up.
    Keep up the great work.

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