Last Sunday, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, my Children’s Chapel children and I talked about justice. As I listened to them wrestle their experiences, I was reminded that Paterson participated in racist/segregationist policies for its school children.

We adults don’t talk about it very often.  And when we do, someone always tries to deny the truth. “You can’t say that, it’s not true,” former officials say. But it is true.

Here is the unspeakable truth:

New textbooks were bought for a few schools and the old ones passed down as “new” to other schools. That’s why at takeover in 1991, Schools 4, 6 and 25 had 20 year old science text books. One of the first reforms brought by takeover was the acquistion of new text books for all the schools.

The children of the Brook-Sloat public housing complex were sent to School 5, more than 10 blocks away, when School 27 is only four blocks away.  Shades of Ruby Bridges and Brown v. Board! It took more than 10 years after takeover to correct that injustice.

There are more examples.  Perhaps you’ll share them with us.

We have to acknowledge that it was the state takeover that put an end to these wrongs. We need to tell our new Education Commissioner of the burden of history he assumes as he takes up the leadership of our schools. The ills we still face are part of the history of unjustice towards poor people and people of color.  He has the power to assure ALL our children receive the benefit of a high quality education. Not just the opportunity, but the actual experience. We need to share the stories with him.

The other unspeakable truth is the way in which our governors have allowed politics to trump sound education policy and implementation in Paterson.  The details are a story for another day.

But for now, as we look to the return of local control, we must assure that our local leaders will face the unspeakable truths and promise “Never again.”

All means all. It means the children with special needs, with little English, with no documentation, with difficult parents and other barriers.  

For ALL our children,