Landmark Ruling Allows Lawsuit to Dismantle NYC School Segregation to Proceed

Youth members of IntegrateNYC in 2019.

Last week, Public Counsel secured a major victory in our fight to address deep-rooted racial segregation and educational inequity in New York City’s public schools. In a landmark decision, a New York appellate court panel unanimously reversed a lower court’s dismissal of our lawsuit, IntegrateNYC v. State of New York, allowing the case to proceed to trial. This historic decision could potentially mark the beginning of the end for New York City’s dual-tiered education system, with national implications that stretch beyond the nation’s largest school district.

New York City schools are among the most segregated in the nation. As early as kindergarten, the system uses a discriminatory test to sort students into two academic tracks, effectively branding them with badges of inferiority and superiority that correlate highly with race and income while having little to do with ability. In later years, this racialized tracking intensifies as students in the gifted and talented track are primed for admission into specialized high schools—elite, well-resourced schools for which admission is based on a score on a single standardized test.

Not surprisingly, this flawed and discriminatory process perpetuates a pernicious cycle of racial inequity. In 2021, despite making up nearly 70% of the student population, Black and Latinx students respectively received only 3.6% and 5.4% of the specialized high school offers. Instead, these students of color are overwhelmingly channeled into the most overcrowded and under-resourced schools with the least qualified teachers.

In Marzo 2021, New York City students, and the youth-led organization IntegrateNYC, bravely took action to dismantle this inequitable system, filing the first lawsuit in the nation asserting a constitutional right to a racially just education. Beyond challenging the racialized tracking system, the lawsuit addresses the absence of a culturally responsive curriculum, racially disparate disciplinary practices, and the failure to build a diverse educator workforce. Later, the parent-led New York City Coalition of Educational Justice, and P.S. 132 Parents for Change, joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. They are represented by Public Counsel, Peer Defense Network, and Sidley Austin LLP.

The Appellate Division’s opinion upheld our challenges as constitutionally grounded. It specifically concluded that a “sound basic education” requires elimination of a segregated two-tiered educational system and the use of “culturally biased and pedagogically unsound” tests that create a racialized pipeline to the have and have not schools. Going further than any court anywhere has ever held, it stated that the state constitution could well require “inputs that ameliorate the effects of racism and poverty.”

Public Counsel is honored to support these courageous young people and parents in their struggle for racial and educational justice. Thanks to last week’s milestone ruling, we have taken a significant step towards ending this unjust system that creates profound racial disparities in educational opportunities for New York City’s children. It’s time for the City and State to take decisive action to dismantle this system once and for all.

To learn more about this suit, click here.

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