Black, Latino NYC high school students win expanded sports access in landmark settlement

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A state court yesterday approved a landmark class action settlement that will expand access to after-school sports for tens of thousands of Black and Latino New York City public high school students and ensure that all students have equal access and opportunity to play sports.
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A state court on Thursday approved a landmark class action settlement that will expand access to after-school sports for tens of thousands of Black and Latino New York City public high school students and ensure that all students have equal access and opportunity to play sports.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) reached the final settlement with the city Department of Education (DOE) and Public-School Athletic League (PSAL) in a class action race discrimination lawsuit to end policies that systematically denied Black and Latino students access to the same athletic opportunities as students of other races and ethnicities.

“I am proud of the tireless nights spent by the team of lawyers, our student plaintiffs and everyone who supported our sports equity work,” said Matt Diaz, IntegrateNYC board member, a group plaintiff in the case, and former New York City public high school student. “It is crazy to think this journey started four years ago, and now we have a settlement in place that expands sports access to Black and Latinx students throughout New York City. But we can’t stop now. We need to keep working for the next generation.”

The settlement creates shared access programs, which will permit smaller, predominantly Black and Latino schools located near one another to play together under one sports program, allowing students to access far more sports. Through surveys conducted by PSAL pursuant to the settlement, New York City students will also have a voice in shaping the athletic programs available to them.

Historically, Black and Latino students have had access to fewer types of sports, fewer teams and fewer financial resources, since the city spent less money on sports teams for Black and Latino students than for students of other races and ethnicities. Black and Latino students are also more likely to attend high schools that offer fewer than 10 sports teams, with many attending schools with fewer than five teams. Before the case, 17,000 New York City Black and Latino public high school students had no PSAL sports teams whatsoever.

A group of advocates led by high school student-athletes affected by these disparities formed the Fair Play Coalition in 2016 to pursue sports equity. The momentum they built led to the filing of this class action lawsuit in 2018, which used the New York City Human Rights Law to challenge the DOE and PSAL for racially discriminating against these students through the design and resource allocation of their sports programs.

“This settlement gives Black and Latinx high school students in New York City greater access to play sports in the first place and a wider selection of sports to choose from,” said Caroline Soussloff at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “I am so grateful for the many lawyers, organizers, and above all the youth ‘athlete activists’ who made this happen. This lawsuit has been youth-led from the very beginning.”

With in-person classes and after-school activities resuming, the expanded access to sports is important for students’ physical health, mental health, fostering of community and friendship, teamwork skills and access to college opportunities, according to advocates.

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