The Education Law Center, together with national civil rights and local community groups, is calling on New York City’s educational leaders to remove a barrier to desegregation in the City’s public school system, the most segregated in the nation. The testimony was also signed by renowned school desegregation lawyers, John Brittain and Theodore Shaw.
ELC and co-signers submitted testimony to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) requesting that a reference that misstates the law on desegregation and acts as an impediment to increasing school diversity be removed from the Chancellor’s regulations.
In a blatant misrepresentation of the law, a footnote in Chancellor’s Regulation A-101 reads: “Race may be considered as a factor in school enrollment only where required by court order…”
As the testimony notes, the notion that race can only be considered as a factor when required by court order is patently wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court explicitly sanctions the use of race-conscious policies in voluntary desegregation plans. In his controlling opinion in the 2007 case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (“PICS”), Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that districts are “free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem” of racial isolation in schools.
Accordingly, the testimony recommends removing this footnote and replacing it with the following language: “School districts are strongly encouraged to consider legally permissible race-conscious and race neutral approaches to promote diversity and reduce racial segregation.”
“Race-conscious student assignment policies are lawful,” said ELC Senior Attorney Wendy Lecker, who presented oral testimony at a PEP meeting on August 29. “To state otherwise erects an unnecessary, inappropriate and illegal barrier to efforts to redress the harmful segregation that plagues New York City schools.”
“Parents and advocates in communities across New York City are working on community-based solutions to address school segregation and are looking to the City Department of Education for support and collaboration toward this goal,” said Lisa Donlan, former President of Community Education Council (CEC) District 1. “The current regulation on admissions, CR A-101 not only does not encourage this work but actively stifles it.”
At the PEP meeting on August 26, David Goldsmith, President of CEC District 13 and Co-Chair of the D13 Task Force for Equal Access to Academic Excellence and Diversity, testified that the Department of Education had referred specifically to that footnote to defeat community integration efforts in his district. He remarked that the footnote stood “like George Wallace at the schoolhouse gates” blocking desegregation.
Rene Kathawala, a New York City public school parent and pro bono counsel with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, who has spent years working with CECs and community groups on reducing school segregation testified that “history has shown that school districts can dramatically improve educational opportunities for all children with admission plans that reduce racial isolation by ensuring, to the fullest extent practicable, racial and socio-economic diversity.”
In response to the written and oral testimony submitted by ELC and its co-signers, the PEP has agreed to consider a resolution to eliminate the footnote and replace it with the language suggested by the testimony. The resolution will be introduced at the next PEP meeting on September 29, at 6 p.m., at Michael J. Petrides School ,715 Ocean Terrace, Staten Island.
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