A year before former — and still blacklisted — NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest systemic racism, dozens of city high school students raised their fists outside City Hall to do the same. They protested the unbalanced — and racially disproportionate — access to sports for students of NYC’s public high schools.
Now, the students — along with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and other groups — are calling out how the Education Department does business, by taking it to court.
Last week, the Fair Play Coalition filed a class action lawsuit against NYC, claiming the disparity in sports access available to schools teaching predominantly black and Hispanic kids versus majority white schools is a civil rights issue.
In fact, the problem mirrors the broader diversity challenge in NYC’s schools. The city has acknowledged the problem by pushing for new admission policies to city’s eight elite schools, which are mostly white and Asian. The lawsuit points to the “segregated” school system as a factor.
Named in the lawsuit is Donald Douglas, director of the Public School Athletic League, which manages the city’s public high school sports system. Douglas was made aware of the issues back in 2015, when students and supporters pointed out that high schools with the highest percentage of white and Asian students averaged more than twice as many sports teams as schools with more black and Hispanic students.
Some of the city’s majority white schools, like Tottenville High School, have more than 40 team sports while some majority black and Hispanic schools in the Bronx have none.
Douglas, former Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and DOE official Eric Goldstein — who oversees the PSAL, and food and transportation contracts — knew the problems. But, according to Fair Play, they haven’t done much to remedy them. If Douglas and Goldstein still don’t get it, perhaps they should follow Fariña out of the door.
Searching for a high school for my 13-year-old son this year was frustrating at times because he wants to play football. Sports can help build character and discipline in a young person’s life. Leveling the playing field in terms of access to sports should be a no-brainer. That the city needs to be sued to understand that is nothing short of an outrage.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.