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Small Schools Athletic League founder to file civil rights complaint

Updated with city response — David Garcia-Rosen has been fighting for more athletic opportunities for students at the city’s small schools for years. In 2011, he turned that advocacy into the Small Schools Athletic League, which this year coordinated 90 teams at 42 schools.

Now, he says he’s headed to the U.S. Department of Education to make his point: that students at small schools—primarily students of color—have been denied teams by the city-funded Public Schools Athletic League, just as larger schools with more resources and fewer black and Hispanic students have gained them.

“Tomorrow morning, I will file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights stating that the New York City Department of Education is in direct violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the way they fund high school sports,” he said in an open letter to principals and athletes.

On Tuesday, Garcia-Rosen acknowledged that the city had offered to incorporate the small-schools league as a division of the Public Schools Athletic League next year, and had offered him a job in the PSAL. (The small-schools league has been funded by principals in the past, though the department provided a $250,000 grant this January.)

But he said the city offered few details about how the small-schools division would be supported or how he would fit into the hierarchy of the department.

For now, Garcia-Rosen said he plans to end the Small Schools Athletic League altogether next year. “We’re hoping that the mayor and the Public Advocate step in and make sure there is a solution that involves major changes” to the Public Schools Athletic League, he said.

“They thought to was more important to give Tottenville High School, that already has 41 teams, badminton and table tennis. But they don’t have enough money to provide soccer all over the city,” he said. “How could we feel OK bringing the league over there if they think that’s OK?”

City officials declined to comment on the specifics of Garcia-Rosen’s letter, but noted that 80 percent of PSAL participants are students of color and that 90 percent of high school students go to school at a campus with at least one PSAL program.

“We are working to create a new league in PSAL which will expand opportunity for students in small schools, meet the federal Title IX mandate to equally serve high school girls and ensure implementation of our strict safety standards,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement. “We will continue to discuss with SSAL and are hopeful that with the league expansion, we’ll reach even more students in more schools across City.”

Garcia-Rosen’s full letter is below.

Good Morning Student-Athletes, Coaches, Administrators, and Allies,
It is with great sadness that I report we have not been able to come to an agreement with the Department of Education to continue the Small Schools Athletic League next year.

Tomorrow morning, I will file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights stating that the New York City Department of Education is in direct violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the way they fund high school sports.

The Department of Education can’t continue to fund world class athletic programs at schools with white students, leaving the most segregated schools begging for teams year after year. On the 60th anniversary of “Brown vs The Board of Education”, it is unbelievable that New York City continues to support one of the most “separate and unequal” high school sports systems in the country.

I built this league in September of 2011, because the Public School Athletic League said there was no way for them to bring interscholastic sports to small high schools. They told me to prove it could be done. We have done that with a league that currently has over 90 teams from 42 high schools with 1700 student-athletes.

I have been in the DOE for 16 years and it has never been about simply creating and running a league.

It is about every student in New York City having the right to play high school sports.

The leadership of the DOE continues to believe offering me a job at the PSAL is the solution. They continue to defend the PSAL which is one of the most “separate and unequal” high school sports systems in the country. I can’t go work for the PSAL, when they continue to defend their current funding model at the very few meetings they grant me.

Even after receiving my research in May of 2013, they went on to make the situation worse in 2014.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the 50 high schools with the least students of color got 84 new PSAL teams, even though they already had the most. The 277 high schools with the most students of color got the same amount. Not one team was granted to the high schools that are 100% students of color.

I will continue to fight not only for the student-athletes of the SSAL, but for all the student-athletes in New York City whose lives can be changed through the power of sports. I can assure you I will not stop fighting until every student in New York City has equal access to high school sports.

I hope to see many of you at the DOE Budget hearing tomorrow morning at City Hall, 9:45 AM. I will be there with SSAL student-athletes to deliver the thousands of signatures and letters we have collected over the past year.

Sincerely,
David Garcia-Rosen
Founder/Director Small Schools Athletic League

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