Federal Civil Rights Complaint Brought by Parents and Community Groups

Parents and community groups filed a federal civil rights complaint against the New York City Department of Education (NYDOE), charging that the high school admissions process sets up minority schools for failure and calling for an investigation into racially discriminatory admissions as a civil rights violation of equal educational opportunity.

Of the 386 high schools at issue in this sweeping federal complaint, 242 schools (or 63%) have a student population that is more than 90% African American and Latino. Thirty-seven of the 386 high schools (or 10%) have a student population that is more than 24% white, thus more than double the percentage of white students in the district.

This is the largest federal civil rights complaint of its kind against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s DOE. It reveals that black and Latino students are more likely than white students to end up in high schools with high concentrations of high-needs students (overage/undercredited students or students with low proficiency levels). In fact, 87% of the schools with the highest concentration of high needs students are predominately minority schools (over 90% African American and Latino), and those schools have a 47.5% graduation rate, as compared to the city’s average graduation rate of 65.1%.

The complaint also shows that the NYDOE ignored its own evidence that the high school admissions process sets up minority schools for failure. First in 2006, and again in 2008, the NYDOE was formally put on notice by the Parthenon Group, an outside consulting firm hired by NYDOE to examine high school admissions, that concentrating students with the highest needs in any one school increases the overall chances of student failure and school closure. Yet, despite this evidence NYDOE has continued to concentrate the highest need students in minority schools, creating a vicious cycle that has doomed more minority schools to closure.

“For at least seven years, the New York City Department of Education has known that its high school admissions process denies African American and Latino students equal educational opportunity, and DOE has done nothing. That is inexcusable and must be corrected so that all New York City students, no matter their race or national origin, have the same opportunity to graduate from high school and lead productive lives,” said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center, which filed the complaint on behalf of New York City parents.

“I’m frustrated with a process that leaves parents in the dark and with just an inkling of hope that your child may end up in a decent high school. Where is the transparency and equality?” said Carmen Rojas, a parent at A. Phillip Randolph High School in Harlem and a complainant.

The complaint calls for an overhaul of the current system through a controlled choice policy that could ensure increased equity and make it possible for the public to understand and monitor high school admissions.


Press Contact: 
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director 
973-624-1815,  x24 

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240