New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres introduced a bill Tuesday that would create an Office of School Diversity aimed at tackling deep segregation in the nation’s largest school system.
If approved, the office would be housed within the city’s Commission on Human Rights, and would be tasked with investigating the causes and extent of school segregation in the city.
“The longer we keep public education segregated, the longer we discriminate against students of color — and the longer we deny them a shot at a decent life,” Torres said.
In making his proposal, Torres is recasting school diversity as a human rights issue.
“Public schools are public accommodations, and human rights law protects against discrimination not only in terms of intent, but also in terms of impact,” he said.
Welcome to Chalkbeat
Chalkbeat is an independent nonprofit news organization telling the story of education in America. Learn more.
Education news. In your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter
The bill is co-sponsored by Councilman Brad Lander. He and Torres worked to get a bill passed last year that requires the Department of Education to report student demographic information.
New York City’s schools are among the most segregated in the country. A landmark 2014 UCLA report found that only 25 percent of black and Hispanic students in New York City attend multiracial schools, compared with 60 percent of white and Asian students.
Statistics like these have motivated a growing number of advocates to call for systemic desegregation efforts. Public Advocate Letitia James recently proposed the appointment of a chief diversity officer. Torres’ office said the councilman isn’t opposed to creating such a position, which would require state or mayoral action.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the DOE have promised to put forward a “bigger vision” to address school segregation. But no details or timeline have been proposed, frustrating integration proponents.
“Whether it’s from the DOE or the political establishment, there’s no real sense of urgency,” Torres said. “There has to be an institution that is advocating for children of color who face discrimination in segregated schools.”
In response to the bill, DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in an email that the department is reviewing the proposal. But, she added, “the buck stops with the chancellor and this includes the DOE’s efforts to increase diversity.”