NYC Public Schools Gifted Programs Targeted by Segregation Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- A lawsuit accusing New York City of entrenching racial segregation in the country’s largest public school system will move ahead, with top schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in the spotlight.

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The issue is back in play after a panel of state appellate judges on Thursday rejected much of a lower court’s decision dismissing the lawsuit.

In the suit, a group that advocates for racial integration in New York schools claims that city and state policies disproportionately benefit White and Asian-American students by creating a “racialized” admissions pipeline to gifted-and-talented programs, as they’re called. Students compete for access to such programs through a process that involves multiple tests and interviews and begins as early as kindergarten.

The group argues that state and city policy denies Black and Latino students their right to a “sound basic education.”

Equality Flashpoint

The gifted-and-talented program has been a flashpoint in the city’s reckoning with equality. Acceptance to the program can alter a student’s educational trajectory. The end of the pipeline is admission to one of eight city specialized high schools, like the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School. They are among the most elite public schools in the country and routinely send scores of students to Ivy League colleges.

Entry to the high schools is determined by a single exam and doesn’t depend on participation in the gifted-and-talented program. The program’s students have an advantage, however, through “superior academic preparation,” according to the complaint.

Read More: NYC Cements Admission Screens in Selective High Schools

The lawsuit claims the city and state “intentionally adopted” and “for decades have intentionally retained — with no pedagogical basis — testing-based sorting that they know excludes students of color from equal educational opportunities,” the appeals court noted in its decision.

The 2018-2019 gifted kindergarten program included White and Asian-American children at more than double their share in the overall kindergarten population, while for Hispanic and Black kids it was one-third and one-quarter of their overall shares, according to a report from the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The defendants had contended that judicial remedies would require the court to act as an “education czar,” and the lower court had largely agreed. In its decision on Thursday, the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division said that didn’t add up.

‘Nonsensical Result’

“The state and city’s efforts to blame each other do not support dismissal,” the appeals court said. Taken together, the court held, those efforts “lead to the nonsensical result that no government entity is responsible for a sound basic education.”

The plaintiffs include IntegrateNYC Inc., a youth-led racial justice organization, as well as two parent groups and current and former public school students. They are asking for the elimination of the screens for gifted and talented programs, as well as those used in middle and high school admissions.

They’re also requesting new programs to improve recruitment and retention of school staff and a system that would require the defendants to monitor conditions that deprive students of a sound education.

Asked about the decision at a press conference, New York City Department of Education First Deputy Chancellor Daniel Weisberg said he couldn’t comment on its impact. But he pointed to city efforts to create new seats in schools like the Northwell School of Health Sciences, which is slated to open next year.

Kids Not ‘Doomed’

Chancellor David Banks was more emphatic.

“What I do reject is this notion that somehow or another we just have a handful of schools that are really top-tier schools, and if your child doesn’t get into any of those schools, they’re doomed,” he said at the press conference. “We have dozens and dozens of just phenomenal schools.”

New York State Education Department spokesperson JP O’Hare said the ruling was far from the end of the matter.

“While this decision allows some claims to proceed against the state,” the court acknowledged that the lawsuit, in its words, “is not a model of clarity or concision,” O’Hare said.

O’Hare said the Education Department is “confident” that the claims will be dismissed and that it “remains committed to ensuring that all students in New York State have access to a high-quality education.”

The case is IntegrateNYC Inc. v. New York, 2022-02719, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

(Updates with details on test for specialized high schools in second section.)

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