Asian Americans Sue City Over Specialized High School Reform

Chinese parents joined Asian-American organizations in suing the city over its plans to expand the Discovery program for admission to elite high schools. (Photo by Yiyi Huang via World Journal)

A group of Asian community organizations and parents filed a lawsuit on Dec. 13 against the city for expanding the Discovery program, part of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to reform specialized high schools. They said the mayor’s plan violated the Constitution which guarantees equal and fair treatment to all racial groups.

The Discovery program, an initiative to increase diversity in specialized high schools that was launched in 2016, offers about 6 percent of seats in these high-quality schools to students who just missed the cutoff scores on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. The mayor’s plan aims to allocate 20 percent of seats instead to students in certain minority-concentrated districts who miss the cutoff scores starting next September. It is expected to double the number of Black and Latino students in the specialized high schools.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. court for the Southern District of New York and litigated by Pacific Legal Foundation, was brought by the Parent Teacher Organization at I.S. 187, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York (CACAGNY), Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) and three Chinese-American parents. I.S. 187, also known as the Christa McAuliffe School, is the middle school that has sent the most students to specialized high schools, and more than 200 parents voted to join the lawsuit.

Joshua Thompson, a lawyer of the Pacific Legal Foundation, said Mayor de Blasio insisted that based on a law passed in 1971, he has the right to implement his specialized high school reform, and he can launch the Discovery program expansion without a nod from city and state lawmakers.

Yi Fang Chen (Photo by Yiyi Huang via World Journal)

Yi Fang Chen, one of the parents who joined the lawsuit, said she came to the U.S. with her parents from Fuzhou, China, when she was 14 years old. She enrolled in the ESL program at New Utrecht High School, and was eventually admitted to New York University as salutatorian of her class. After college, she went to Stanford University where she received a Ph.D. in statistics.

Chen said the mayor’s plan would only deprive equal opportunities in education from new immigrant students like her. A mother of two, Chen said she has to fight to protect the fair competition environment for her children. Wai Wah Chin, president of CACAGNY, said specialized high school reform would be a barrier for Asian-American students to get a high-quality education. “We cannot allow such an unfair policy to be implemented in New York,” Chin said.

But the mayor’s plan has some supporters. In a public meeting of Brooklyn’s District 16, several parents said the plan is de Blasio’s remedy to problems in the city’s school system. An African-American parent said African-American students in specialized high schools feel their schools have a hostile atmosphere because many interest holders don’t want to see Black students in these schools.

Yukong Zhao, president of AACE, which also participated in the lawsuit that Asian-American students filed against Harvard University over racial bias in the admissions process, provided updates on the Harvard suit at the press conference. He said lawyers from both sides will have a final additional argument on Feb. 13, and the judge is expected to make a decision in six to 12 months afterward. And whichever side that loses the case will all but be certain to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

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