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NYC students sue to end ‘caste system’ within gifted programs

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A group of Big Apple high schoolers is suing the city and the state to eliminate Gifted & Talented programs and admissions screening — arguing they perpetuate systemic racism and reinforce a “caste system,” new court papers show.

“Nearly every facet of the New York City public education system operates not only to prop up, but also to affirmatively reproduce, the artificial racial hierarchies that have subordinated people of color for centuries in the United States,” alleges the Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed Tuesday by 13 students and a youth activist group.

The students, identified only by their initials, and IntegrateNYC — “a youth-led organization that stands for equity and justice in our schools” — argue in the suit that Gifted & Talented programs “exclude many students of color, who are instead condemned to neglected schools that deliver inferior and unacceptable outcomes.”

They also charge that city schools “teach a Eurocentric curriculum that centers white experience,” don’t have enough racially diverse staff and aren’t providing resources to help students and staff “identify and dismantle racism.”

The suit claims that these problems start with elementary and middle schools, which reward rich families who have better access to test prep and other resources that make them the most successful in “a rigged system.”

A NYC Department fo Education sign is seen outside the West Side Secondary School in New York, New York, USA, 11 August 2020.
A NYC Department fo Education sign is seen outside the West Side Secondary School in New York, New York, USA, 11 August 2020.
EPA/Peter Foley

The city starts sorting students into programs for the gifted as early as age 4, and the “exclusive pipeline” that’s created by these programs is “inaccessible to large swaths of black and latinx students and their families,” the court documents claim.

And specialized test-based high schools are similarly difficult for minority students to get into, the court papers allege.

In some cases, students of color share buildings with students in special programs, to “witness firsthand the disparities between their own educational experiences and those of their predominantly white and Asian peers,” the court papers claim.

All of this fosters an environment where minority students face “racial animosity” that the schools don’t work to prevent or redress, the court documents claim.

The suit alleges incidents including teachers telling black students to write out the pros and cons of slavery on the board, having black students research or even say in class the n-word, and students calling black students “monkeys,” Hispanic students “illegal” and Muslim students “terrorists.”

When students speak out against these racial inequities schools make small changes. Still, “these efforts are not systematized, much less mandated and monitored, by the city or state,” the suit charges.

Bill de Blasio has not commented on the lawsuit against the Department of Education.
Bill de Blasio has not commented on the lawsuit against the Department of Education.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File

“There is simply no government accountability system for the eradication of racism from New York City classrooms and school corridors,” the court papers claim.

The students are seeking to do away with the Gifted and Talented programs and middle- and high-school screening, to improve staff diversity, and to set up a system to “monitor conditions that deny students a sound basic education, such as segregated schools and programs.”

In a statement, a city Department of Education spokeswoman said it would review the suit

“This administration has taken bold, unprecedented steps to advance equity in our admissions policies – suspending academic screens in middle schools, removing district priorities in high schools, and dismantling a system that uses the test results of four year olds to determine their academic success,” said rep Danielle Filson.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to comment as the case is pending.

The governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks, Bernadette Hogan and Selim Algar

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