- In an article and attached video, the Hechinger Report reports that four New York City (NYC) students have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of similarly situated black and Latino students against the New York City Department of Education, The Public Schools Athletic League and its director, stating that “among the crucial resources defendants in this class action lawsuit have failed to furnish on an equal basis to the city's black and Latino students are high school sports teams.”
- According to the lawsuit, more than 17,000 black and Hispanic students in NYC schools have no sports teams and many more have very limited options in sports, while some schools with the highest white populations offer up to 44 sports team choices.
- The students and advocates in the Fair Play Coalition are using the lawsuit to protest such disparities and ensure that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, have the option to play any sport that the Public Schools Athletic League offers.
The lawsuit raises interesting issues in regard to athletics in schools. The lawsuit is being framed as a civil rights action that "seeks to end the ongoing discriminatory practices … in granting and supporting interscholastic sports teams for students in New York City's public high schools.” As an equity issue, there seems to be some arguments to support it, but a number of factors play into a school’s ability to offer sports teams including location, zoning issues, staffing and money. Finding an equitable solution to the issue may not be easy.
The U.S. Department of Education has offered guidance in the past on providing equal access to sports for students with disabilities. However, in this case, the equal access was to sports offered within a school, not an entire district. Title IX guidance also may be hard to apply in this case as “Title IX does not require institutions to offer identical sports, but an equal opportunity to play,” according to the NCAA.
The issue springs from an assumption that access to sports is a requirement for a sound or adequate education. While some educators argue that sports are a part of education and provide a solid foundation for future careers, others contend that sports distracts from more worthy educational pursuits and only benefits those who play. Many schools, including some early college high schools, do not offer sports teams at all. Charter schools do not always have teams and often are not allowed to compete against other public school teams, an issue that some critics see as unfair. Sports, it seems, tends to engender a fair number of lawsuits. Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to see how this lawsuit is resolved or where it leads.