DOE High School Admissions Process Violates Civil Rights, Complaint Says

By Amy Zimmer on May 20, 2013 6:59pm | Updated on May 20, 2013 7:02pm

 A group filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday against the DOE's high school admission process.
A group filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday against the DOE's high school admission process.
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NEW YORK CITY — A group of parents and community groups filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday charging the city Department of Education with creating a high school admission process that sets minority students up for failure. They are calling on the federal government to investigation how city education policies violate students civil rights.

The "DOE utilizes some mysterious process to match students with seats in a purportedly equitable manner," the complaint said. The end result, however, is that black and Latino students are more likely than white students to end up in high schools with high concentrations of high-needs students — those with low proficiency levels or with many overage or under-credited kids, the group claims.

Roughly 87 percent of the schools with highest concentration of high needs students are predominantly minority — with more than 90 percent of African American and Latino students (compared to 71 percent of the high school students citywide)  — and have a graduation rate of 47.5 percent compared to the city average of 65.1 percent, the complaint stated.

It ends up being a vicious cycle that has put more minority schools on the path to closure, the complaint said.

The DOE ignored the warnings of an outside consultant it hired in 2006 and 2008 that said concentrating high needs students in any one school would increase the chances of student failure and school closure, it noted.

"There are, apparently, no controls to ensure a distribution of students that will not overwhelm certain schools with high concentrations of students with high needs," the complaint stated.  "Rather, the implementation of this process results in high concentrations of students with high needs in some minority schools."

The legal action is calling for an investigation into whether high school admissions and school closing policies have a disproportionate impact on Latino and African American students. The complaint also wants an overhaul of the admissions system and a way for the public to understand and monitor the admission process.

"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," Wendy Lecker, senior attorney with the Education Law Center which represents the group.

The legal complaint also questioned the impact of school closings.

Since 2008, the DOE has closed 29 large high schools and opened 50 smaller ones, the complaint said. More than 90 percent of the 26,620 students in these closing high schools were African American or Latino.

"It is clear from the data detailed above that many of the high needs students served by the closing schools are just not enrolled in the new schools," the complaint said.

Senior Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said that the administration's high school admissions process has changed the "unequal system — where zip code often determined a child’s fate" that it inherited.

"Every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city," Sternberg said in a statement. "While we always have more work do to, some want to turn back the clock – and we can’t let that happen."

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