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New York Students File First-Of-Its-Kind Lawsuit Asserting Constitutional Right to an Education That Dismantles Racism

March 9, 2021

Systemic racial inequities perpetuated by admissions screens, harrowing inequality and Eurocentric curriculum are among the challenges cited by students as barriers to receipt of constitutionally-mandated education

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – Just days after the 70th anniversary of the filing of Brown v. Board of Education, students and advocates are again bringing a historic lawsuit against State and City defendants, challenging racial hierarchies in public education and asserting their right under the New York State Constitution to an education that identifies and dismantles racism.

“The theory of public education in the United States is that the schoolhouse is to be the site for inculcating core democratic and cultural values in order that children learn to respect the identity and worth of every other child and that then those values will be launched into adulthood,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel’s Robins Kaplan Director of Opportunity Under Law. “Racism continues to thrive in our society by denying children of color a fair opportunity to receive even a ‘sound basic education’ that they may achieve their dreams, better their circumstances, and become full participants in our political and civic institutions.”

New York City public schools are some of the most segregated across the nation. In the 2018–19 school year, close to 75% of Black and Latinx students attended schools with less than 10% white students, and over 34% of white students attended schools with majority white populations, notwithstanding that only 15% of City students are white. These numbers reflect a racialized pipeline that rewards families’ race and wealth privilege and largely excludes students of color, including Black, Latinx, and certain Asian students, from the City’s prime educational opportunities.  

Sarah Medina Camiscoli, founder and co-chair of lead plaintiff IntegrateNYC, noted, “If we do not take action to ensure that we honor the students’ call for an antiracist education, they will take two lessons with them: first, racism is acceptable and second, your voice does not matter.”

“Almost every significant divide we see in education in New York City can be traced to students being separated by race, sex, national origin, and religion,” said David Kirkland, vice dean of Equity, Belonging, and Community Action at NYU Steinhardt. “These issues have become increasingly difficult to deal with not simply because the courts are far less active in the areas of desegregation, but precisely because we have too often failed to realize the consequences of treating equity and academic excellence as separate issues. Equity often gets relegated to a lower status which makes academic excellence harder to attain.”

The lawsuit demonstrates how New York City’s public education system props up—and in fact exacerbates—the City’s racial inequality by maintaining racially discriminatory admissions screens at every level of education; allowing schools to teach a white and Eurocentric curriculum that marginalizes people of color; failing to build a diverse educator workforce; and failing to equip students with the tools to identify and dismantle racism and provide mental health supports to redress the harms already wrought.

“Public schools are meant to provide all students with meaningful access to social and economic mobility, but the New York City school system does just the opposite,” said Amanda Savage, staff attorney with Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “Rather than level the playing field for students from different backgrounds, the City maintains, and the State sanctions, an elaborate system of racialized tracking that denies educational opportunity to large swaths of City students of color and harms all students by insulating them from the diverse perspectives of their peers.”


Read the Complaint HERE.

Watch the Press Conference HERE.

Read the letter of support from EduColor HERE.

 

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