Thousands of New York City students long denied access to athletics programs are getting sports teams under a pilot program unveiled by Education Department officials Thursday.
Under the new program called “PSAL All-Access,” 26 schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn that enroll a total of 8,500 kids have added 19 Public School Athletic League teams in sports including handball, track and flag football.
The city’s been under pressure for years to deal with an infamously unequal school sports system where teams are far more available to wealthier white students compared to low-income kids, and black and Hispanic students.
Activists launched a federal civil rights complaint in 2014 over the issue. And the city is facing a class-action suit brought by the nonprofit New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in June, which argues that the city’s school sports policies discriminate because black and Hispanic students have access to fewer teams.
Under the new program small schools will share teams, bringing athletics to kids who haven’t had access until now.
The program also allows kids from participating schools to join teams at nearby locations, if their school doesn’t have the program they want.
Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza praised the program as a promising first step toward the creation of a more just system of school athletics.
“Every student should be able to play on a competitive sports team, no matter where they go to school,” Carranza said.
“This pilot is a critical step in the right direction, and we’ll be closely monitoring its impact as we develop a citywide plan,” he added.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who’s pushed for more school sports in black and Hispanic communities in Brooklyn, praised Carranza’s program as a good step toward removing historical barriers to student access for sports teams.
“Access to individual and team sports is critical to improving equity of access, mental and physical health, and team-building,” Adams said.
City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn/Queens
Activists who have pushed for more radical changes in the public school sports system said the city should be doing more to make sports more available to kids of color.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest senior staff attorney Melissa Iachan, who’s a lead lawyer on the class-action case over the issue, said the city is in violation of its own human rights laws in its unequal handling of the matter.
Statistics compiled by Iachan in her litigation show that black or Hispanic students have access to 15 sports on average, compared with 25 teams for students of other races.
Iachan’s research also shows that more than 17,000 black and Hispanic students attended a school that offered zero PSAL sports in 2017.
Her research also found that city Education Department spends 17% more on sports for white and Asian students, compared with black and Hispanic students.
Iachan said the city’s new pilot is too small to make a dent in the issue.
“This pilot program does not change the pervasive systemic racial inequality in the current PSAL system,” she said.
Lisa Parks, a junior at Bronx Academy of Letters who’s a plaintiff in the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest class-action suit, also said the program doesn’t go far enough.
Parks, 16, a track enthusiast, has begun to run track at a neighboring school under the new program but said too many other city student still missing out on sports.
“This does not feel like justice,” she said. “I am happy about running track, but what about all the other Black and Latino kids in the city?”
Educator David Garcia-Rosen, who’s Director of School Culture and Athletics at the Bronx Academy of Letters and founder of the Small Schools Athletic League, said black and Hispanic students continue to be sidelined by discriminatory PSAL policies.