Commentary: Separate and Unequal Is Still Wrong

Commentary: Separate and Unequal Is Still Wrong

In a commentary, the NAACP explains why it filed a lawsuit against New York City's Department of Education.

Published July 19, 2011

When parents send their children off to school every morning there are many reasons to worry.  Will their children do well on the history test?  Are they paying attention in math? Did they remember to turn in their English homework?  Unfortunately, at some New York City schools, parents now have to worry if their children will be learning in a classroom or in the basement, whether the nearest working restroom is close enough, or if they will have enough time to study in the library.


These new concerns for parents stem from the New York City Department of Education’s poorly implemented school co-location plan that inequitably allocates space and resources between charter schools and traditional public schools housed in the same building.  Parents complain that the plan has led to instances where charter school students have more time in the libraries, gyms and playgrounds while traditional public school students have less.  In another instance, children on one side of the hallway learn in new hi-tech classroom while their counterparts are asked to concentrate in overcrowded rooms where paint is peeling from the walls.  At another school, according to parents, traditional school students must race to different floors to use the bathroom because the closest restroom on their floor was reserved exclusively for charter school students.  There is no sharing.


To make space for the charter schools, art programs have been forced to close, a vital dental clinic at one school was shuttered and an innovative robotics program for traditional schools students that opened new worlds and new technology for inner-city children was terminated.


In order to stop these inequities from multiplying across the school system, the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education.  The lawsuit was a last resort after months of trying to work with the city to resolve the problem. And even though we await a judge’s ruling, the plaintiffs and parents are still hoping the city will work with us. We’re spending the summer going school-by-school, offering proposals to solve problems, rebalance inequities, and improve conditions before students return in the fall.


Our suit demands that the Department of Education comply with state law and previous court orders by (1) creating an equitable co-location plan for charter and traditional schools that share the same space; (2) notifying and involving parents before shutting down their neighborhood public schools; and (3) developing, funding, and implementing plans to improve low performing schools.


For more than a century, the NAACP has been a tireless advocate for educational quality and equality.  Whether it is putting an end to separate and unequal schools or demanding more from teachers, our organization has always fought for the right of every child to receive a world-class education.  The NAACP’s lawsuit against the Department of Education continues this tradition by standing for the rights of all children, not just a select few.


The NAACP does not stand alone in our demands for equality in education.  A group of deeply concerned New York City parents has also joined in the growing chorus for change. These parents filed a separate lawsuit against the Department of Education to make sure their voices are heard and that their children, and the children in their neighborhoods, are not relegated to second-class citizenship in their own school.


We remain stubbornly optimistic that new Chancellor Dennis Walcott will break from the inaction and inflexibility of his predecessors and work to resolve this situation expeditiously and fairly. As the civil rights organization that represents the most parents of color in the most cities throughout the nation, the NAACP will always fight to protect the rights of all children.  If it takes a lawsuit to raise the profile of the plight of children, then we stand with history in raising the profile of this issue.  Our children deserve nothing less than a speedy resolution that complies with the law.  The clock is ticking on their future. 


Kim Keenan is the NAACP General Counsel.  The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


Written by Kim M. Keenan, NAACP


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