EGG HARBOR CITY — Activists demanding more integrated New Jersey schools continue their campaign to preserve the Absecon-Pleasantville Send-and-Receive Agreement.
A group of Pleasantville residents and activists from the New Jersey Coalition Against Racial Exclusion, or NJ-CARE, and Building One America spoke Monday at the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Board of Education at the Cedar Creek High School.
The group, made up of about two dozen people, was asking the school board to break a planned send-and-receive agreement between the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District and the Absecon School District that would allow students to Absecon from attending Absegami High School in Galloway Township.
The Absecon School District is seeking to break its send-receive agreement with Pleasantville Public Schools, an arrangement that sees some Absecon students attend Pleasantville High School.
Most aspiring high schoolers at Absecon choose to attend the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, of which only about a tenth go to Pleasantville. Building One America argues that canceling the send-receive agreement between Absecon and Pleasantville would nonetheless deepen racial segregation in the region and set an alarming precedent.
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Reverend Willie Francis III – the senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and someone who lives in the Greater Egg District – spoke during the comments section on the meeting agenda . He praised the district for its diversity, saying it could be “a model of what inclusive schooling in New Jersey could be,” but warned council members would be “guilty of segregation.” they weren’t changing course on his shipment. receive an agreement with Absecon.
“One of the things that’s so important to our coalition is making sure there are more districts that look like yours, districts that actually match the demographics of our state,” Francis said.
The group handed out flyers at the meeting that urged the Greater Egg board to “be a good egg and don’t break us (Absecon and Pleasantville)!” Marking that it was Holy Monday, there were pictures of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs on the flyer.
Greater Egg Superintendent James Reina said during a break in the meeting that he appreciates how Building One America has reached out to the district with its concerns. He said he had met Francis and planned to meet “in the near future” for further discussions. He also expressed his gratitude to François for recognizing the diversity of the neighborhood.
Francois argued that relevant state case law on the matter indicated that Absecon’s attempt to change its send-receive agreement from Pleasantville to Greater Egg would be unconstitutional. He further urged the council not to join the “serial segregationist plan” put forward by Absecon district leaders.
“You don’t all look like segregationists to me. You don’t all sound like segregationists to me. And I know you care about the kids,” Francois said. “I invite you to live out your already demonstrated commitments to live this sunny path of racial justice.”
Mainland/Pleasantville NAACP President Olivia Caldwell was also in attendance. She said during a break that she thought the night had gone well and the Greater Egg School Board had had a chance to look into the activists’ claims.
“If we’re able to get them to reconsider, review what happened, then I think there will be opportunities for more conversations,” Caldwell said.
Pinelands Preservation Alliance member Jason Howell also spoke at the meeting, opposing the planned termination of the Absecon-Pleasantville send-receive agreement. He said he had been a student at Greater Egg Schools and his lessons about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s guided his stance on the issue.
“I hope you will be consistent with the lessons I learned here and your students are learning right now,” Howell said.
After the comments section ended, Greater Egg board members moved on to agenda items that explored new initiatives promoting diversity, including an African American studies course and a sign language club.
A January 26 public letter posted on the Absecon School District website said it still intended for its rising high school students to attend Absegami at the start of the 2022-2023 school year, but was expecting a review by the New Jersey Education Commissioner.
The district pointed to the fact that more than 100 residents commented in support of the change when Absecon petitioned the state, while no Pleasantville residents commented – arguing that it shows the change would not have no negative impact on the two districts.
Absecon’s letter also cites recent caustic disputes in the Pleasantville School District and said a decision in favor of Absecon “would avoid subjecting more of our students to the continued turmoil of Pleasantville.” In recent months, Pleasantville has been plagued by disputes on the board over staff, while parents have raised concerns about school safety.
The Pleasantville School Board, having dropped its opposition to the deal, now appears to be firmly opposed to the change. Several Pleasantville school board members were at a march to the Atlantic County Democratic Convention last month organized by Building One America, which acted as a protest against a new send-receive agreement.
Pleasantville School Board member Julio Sanchez attended the Greater Egg board meeting on Monday. He said he appreciated the organization of the meeting, saying he wanted to implement their procedural orders. Whether Robert’s formal rules of procedure are followed has been a point of contention at Pleasantville School Board meetings for the past few months.
Pleasantville Superintendent Natakie Chestnut-Lee was also present at the meeting. Chestnut-Lee was furloughed by the school board in October 2021 – a decision that has bitterly divided the board ever since.
The dispute over Pleasantville comes as a 2018 lawsuit against the state for segregation in New Jersey schools, filed by the Latino Action Network and other civil rights groups, is still pending before a state court.
Contact Chris Doyle