NYC students strike to demand racial equity in nation’s largest—and most segregated—school district

“We, the students, have had enough. It is past time to integrate our school system, and we will not relent until the adults stop acting like children.”

SOURCECommon Dreams

For the second consecutive week, students in New York City went on strike Monday morning to protest persistent segregation in their schools more than six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools must serve children of all races equally.

Led by the grassroots campaign Teens Take Charge, hundreds of students from several city high schools demanded an end to New York’s “screening” system which has made the United States’ largest school district also its most segregated.

“We’ve met with politicians time and time again to urge them to integrate our schools,” Marcus Alston, public action leader for Teens Take Charge, said in a video posted to social media. “It is clear that they care more about the voices from the wealthier white parents than they do [about] the voices of students that are being disproportionately affected by this system.”

According to the New York Times, one in five New York City high schools and middle schools screens students’ test scores and grades before admitting them. The system has evolved gradually over the past several decades; for most of the 20th century, most New York City school children attended neighborhood schools.

The screening system has created public schools like NYC iSchool, where 40% of students are white—in a district where only 15 percent of students attending public schools are white—and Stuyvesant High School, where only seven out of 895 slots were offered to black students this past year. Critics say the system allows schools to cherry-pick their student bodies.

On Monday, students walked out of their classrooms at schools including John Jay High School in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s neighborhood of Park Slope, holding a banner that read “Strike for Integration” and chanting, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Segregation has got to go!”

De Blasio and school Chancellor Richard Carranza have pledged to fight school segregation, but in an open letter published by Gothamist last June, student activists Cameron Leo and Ayana Smith demanded to know why another school year had passed with few changes:

With all due respect, Mayor de Blasio, it feels like you have not been listening to us, the students, your city’s future, who, day in and day out, are forced to sit in segregated classrooms.

The problem, from our perspective, is that the high school enrollment system is segregative and unjust. Students from privileged backgrounds often get into schools with a plethora of resources to flourish academically, while students from underprivileged backgrounds are left behind. We focus on pursuing change in the high school level not because we deny that K-8 schools need to be addressed, but because we think we can and should address both at the same time.

Teens Take Charge has pledged to continue striking every Monday “until Mayor de Blasio dismantles the screens that segregate us.”

“We, the students, have had enough,” the students wrote on their campaign’s official website. “It is past time to integrate our school system, and we will not relent until the adults stop acting like children.”


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