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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Civil rights violations abound at public school

Marko Georgiev for The New York Times
Children at play outside the highly rated New
Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math

Chancellor Cites Favoritism at a New York School
Published: November 4, 2006

With its exceptional students, multitude of field trips and fund-raising parents, the New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math school is widely admired as an oasis in the New York City school system, more like an elite private school than the public school it is.

But the Department of Education says that is precisely the problem, at least when it comes to admissions.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said the school’s practices were a “stark and different” example of the kind of favoritism that he has been trying to eliminate from the city’s array of coveted schools and gifted programs.

Officials say an examination of the school’s most recent kindergarten admissions documents shows that school officials were looking not only at students’ performance, but also at how involved their parents were likely to be.

A child who scored 58 out of a perfect 88 was accepted with the written note, “Mom has a great vision,” while an applicant with a 59 was rejected, with the comment, “Mom is pregnant with number 3, did not feel she could juggle her life for our vision.” In other examples, a child who scored 64 was accepted — “Mom works here,” said a notation — while one with a 66 was rejected, with notes that the parent interview was “vague,” as “Dad had limited English.”


“In my view, public schools do not interview family members for admission to public schools, period,” Mr. Klein said in an interview yesterday. “It turns out they were doing it.”

Mr. Klein’s campaign to make school admissions equitable and more transparent has drawn the ire of many middle-class parents who say he is meddling with programs that help keep thousands of families from abandoning the public schools. But his supporters have charged that some of the programs discriminate against black and Hispanic children.


A core group of parents active in NEST’s PTA say the school has often been singled out for scrutiny because of its high standards, its tendency to buck the system and, most recently, their own success last year in scuttling a plan by Mr. Klein for the school to share its Lower East Side building with a charter school.

After the parents filed a lawsuit and held news conferences and rallies, Mr. Klein relented on the charter school. He installed a new principal at the same time, though, and the school’s founding principal, Celenia Chevere, retired under pressure.

Now, a group of parents are rebelling against the new principal, Olga Livanis, saying she is destroying the school’s special nature.

Among their complaints are that Dr. Livanis eliminated single-gender math and science classes for high school students, increased class sizes, spread the college adviser too thin and slashed the amount of time devoted to community-building. They say she is constraining them and teachers with bureaucracy, insisting, for example, that teachers fill out paperwork after collecting money for field trips and questioning the parents’ practice of paying teachers for baby-sitting during PTA meetings.

Of the 211 applications reviewed, the very top scorers were admitted and the very lowest were not. The discrepancies occurred among the bulk of those ranked in the middle.

Emily Armstrong, one of the PTA members who recently resigned and who helped Ms. Chevere found the school, described the comments, as related to her by a reporter, as “irrelevant in light of the thousands of kids who got put through the admissions process” over the years.

Ms. Armstrong described NEST as a school that takes equal pride in the hundreds of thousands of dollars its PTA has raised over the years and the fact that students who cannot afford extras like the senior trip to Europe are quietly subsidized by those who can.

“I know the different countries, languages, races, economic levels, family situations, nationalities that the NEST kids were; they were from all over the place,” she said. “I think you would find that at any kind of school — private, public, college — you’re going to find people who have incredibly close scores who are going to contest them.”

During the 2004-5 academic year, the school population was described as 52.6 percent white, 8 percent black, 20.4 percent Hispanic and 19.1 percent Asian and other.

Let me put it simply: while Klein is downplaying what they found, there are clear cases of discrimination being cited. Rejecting "special needs" kids, parents with "limited English", a pregnant mother?

Hello, these are gross violations of the law.

The fact that the city tolerated this could land them in a boatload of legal trouble. This is a public school, you cannot judge the potential of children based on their parents. You cannot exclude kids because their mother is pregnant or they have special needs.

Ms. Armstong is full of shit. Children were rejected from a public school based on personal considerations. This is not how the city's elite schools operate. Not when I went, and not now.

Given the school's racial proportions, with less Asians than Hispanics, and more than half white in a city which is 55 percent minority, someone is discriminating. It may not be openly racist, but it's definitely based on class and that is illegal. This is not their school, it is the city's school.

The parents may find themselves on the sharp end of questions from the state and the feds if someone files a complaint, and upon reading this story, I'd bet that's what comes next.

posted by Steve @ 12:15:00 AM

12:15:00 AM

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