More than 200 teens gathered on the steps of Tweed Courthouse Thursday to protest what they described as a laggard approach to integrating public high schools.
The gathering, organized by Teens Take Charge, highlighted how segregated campuses are by having mostly white and Asian students, wearing white shirts, amass on one side of the city Department of Education headquarter’s steps and another group of mostly black and Latino students, in black shirts, stand on the other side.
Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Education assuring New Yorkers that they are working on integrating schools, white and affluent neighborhoods end up with more resources, standardized test prep and other advantages than communities of color, according to Whitney Stephenson, co-founder of Teens Take Charge.
"These places lack AP classes, sports and electives and spaces for creativity," Stephenson said.
At Pace High School, Alexis Ashwood, 14, said she and her mostly minority classmates have to work with dated computers and textbooks.
"I think it’s wrong that the white students are always getting more attention," said Ashwood, who is black.
Students raised concerns about policy changes stalling as de Blasio, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, stumps across the country. The crowd chanted "Where is our mayor?" and "Where is Bill?"
Teens Take Charge has been urging the mayor to present a comprehensive education integration plan by June 26. The group has put forward a number of policies for consideration, including admitting the top 7% of middle school students into specialized high schools. The organization also suggested that all high schools get a relatively equitable amount of students who have passed state middle school tests, specifically that their incoming freshmen classes contain between 25 and 75 percent of such students.
Parents and pupils have increasingly taken issue with the lack of diversity in the public school system, particularly in specialized high schools. In March, just seven black students were among the 895 students admitted Stuyvesant High School.
De Blasio has urged the state to pass legislation that would pave the way for specialized high schools to no longer exclusively admit students based on the results of one exam. His administration has also created a School Diversity Advisory Group to focus on integration efforts.
"The voices of our students, educators, and families have been essential to the significant progress we have made on this issue in just the past year, and they will continue to be," city Department of Education spokesman Doug Cohen said in a statement. "We’ll continue to act, including responding to the recommendations of the School Diversity Advisory Group in the coming days.”