State Sen. John Liu calls New York City’s specialized high school overhaul ‘racist’

State Sen. John Liu called the mayor’s plan for diversifying the specialized high schools “racist” in a video that surfaced Thursday and said the proposal can’t go forward in its current state.

Liu, chairman of the Senate’s committee on New York City education, said Mayor Bill de Blasio should have involved the Asian-American community when he drafted his proposal to scrap the sole entrance exam for the elite schools, which is seen as a barrier to admission for black and Hispanic students. Asian students, many from low-income families, make up about 60 percent of enrollment in the prestigious schools.

“The mayor and the chancellor excluded the entire Asian community from the process, and my position, my conclusion from that, was that was the plan that the mayor announced last year was a racist plan,” Liu said in a video on the SinoVision site. “And because it’s racist, we cannot use that as the starting point of any kind of discussion.”

Black and Hispanic students make up about 10 percent of enrollment at the specialized schools, though they represent almost two-thirds of students citywide.

The single-test admissions method is the result of a decades-old state law. De Blasio has called on the legislature to scrap the test in favor of a plan that would admit the top 7 percent of students from each public middle school. But that has generated vigorous pushback from many in the Asian community, and from Liu, who has called the plan a “non-starter.” The city also faces a lawsuit, filed in part by Asian families who claim the city’s plan is discriminatory.

Others in the Asian community have lent their support to integration efforts and recently polling suggests the community is split on the question of overhauling admissions. 

The city’s education department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment but the mayor has recently acknowledged, referring to outreach for his plan, that he could have “done it better.”

Liu couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The video appears to be from a media roundtable held in Queens this week.

De Blasio’s plan has gained remarkably little political traction, with many electeds blaming the city’s botched roll-out for withholding their support. Despite the backlash, recent polling shows broad public support for overhauling admissions to the elite schools.

Debate around the plan heated up several weeks ago when the city released data that showed only seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant, the most selective of the specialized schools.

Since then, New York City state senators announced they’ll hold community forums on the topic starting next week. Liu was clear that the senators were not ready to consider any legislation that would change how students are admitted to the coveted schools.

“I don’t believe we should have any bills that are considered without hearing everybody’s opinion on this,” he said. “So we’re having the community forums on this, before hearing any bill.”

Additionally, Speaker Carl Heastie said the Assembly plans to hold hearings in May on admissions at the eight elite schools. And New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last week called for an overhaul of the single-exam admissions process and a series of other measures to address the issue.

Reema Amin and Alex Zimmerman also contributed to this report.