NY Appeals Court Issues Major Constitutional Decision on Racial Segregation in NYC Schools

NY Appeals Court Issues Major Constitutional Decision on Racial Segregation in NYC Schools

Last week, the Appellate Division, First Department, issued a striking school desegregation decision. The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court's dismissal of the case IntegrateNYC v. State of New York , ruling that plaintiffs could proceed to trial to prove their claim. The plaintiffs allege that New York City's examination system for selecting students for its elite high schools and its systems for choosing students for gifted and talented programs (beginning as early as age four), deny Black and Latinx students their right to the opportunity for a sound basic education.

IntegrateNYC, Inc., is a youth-led organization “for racial integration and equity in New York City schools.” They are joined as plaintiffs in this case by two parent organizations and current and former public-school students. The defendants are the state and city government entities that oversee New York City’s public education system: the State of New York, the governor, the New York State Board of Regents, the New York State Education Department, the New York State Commissioner of Education, the mayor of the City of New York, the New York City Department of Education, and its chancellor.

The defendants are expected to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court. If the Appellate Division decision is upheld by the Court of Appeals, this case will be the first legal challenge to the selective high schools examination system established by state statute in 1971. In 2021, Black and Latinx students comprised nearly 70% of the New York City school system, yet they received, respectively, only 3.6% and 5.4% of the specialized high school offers, while white and Asian students received, respectively, 28% and 54% of the offers.

The Appellate Division decision, written by Justice Peter Moulton, also established an important new precedent in holding that claims of racial segregation, if proven, would constitute a denial of students' rights under Article XI of the New York State Constitution to the opportunity for a sound basic education. That right was established by the Court of Appeals in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York in 2003. That case held that a denial of adequate funding for students in the New York City Public Schools constituted a constitutional violation. Subsequent court rulings that have relied on CFE seemed to indicate that claims of a denial of the opportunity for a sound basic education would be limited to allegations of inadequate school funding. Justice Moulton's decision in IntegrateNYC now shows that such claims can also be based on allegations of intentional segregation.

New York is now the second state in which a state court has held that school segregation may constitute a denial of an adequate education under the state constitution. Earlier this year, the Minnesota Supreme Court held in Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota that the racial imbalance in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school systems would constitute a violation of the state constitution's “thorough and efficient” education clause if plaintiffs can show at trial there is a causal link between such racial imbalance and inadequate education.
These state court developments in New York and Minnesota may constitute significant precedents for school desegregation reforms. They could open opportunities for advocates throughout the country to promote school desegregation claims that have been stymied in recent years by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court that have substantially restricted the scope of desegregation claims under federal law.


By: Michael Rebell
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