Whether it is an electorial “woke” moment for the city’s growing Asian-American community remains to be seen, but according to Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York (CACAGNY) President Wai Wah Chin the issue of limiting qualified Asian-American students to the city’s academically specialized high schools is a big issue for Asian parents in Brooklyn and Queens.
CACAGNY along with the Parent Teacher Organization at the Christa McAuliffe School, I.S. 187, in Borough Park, are among the litigants that have signed onto a federal lawsuit to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Education’s plan to change the Discovery Program for entrance at the city specialized high school to include more black and Hispanic students, while limiting eligible Asian-American students.
Discovery is a program open to incoming freshmen who scored just below the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) cutoff for admission and who are certified as economically disadvantaged. Students who complete the program gain admission to the high school that fall after taking summer school. Discovery has traditionally accounted for less than 5% of the total number of students admitted to the specialized high schools.
However, in the past two years, about two-thirds of participants in the program have been low-income Asian-Americans. So de Blasio and the DOE decided to limit the program to certain middle schools that score 60% or higher on the city’s “Economic Need Index,” (ENI) a measure that estimates the percentage of economically disadvantaged students attending a particular school.
The administration also expanded Discovery to 20% of the seats at each specialized high school, effectively locking the ineligible schools out of a large portion of available spots. Thus, the Christa McAuliffe School, which has a ENI of 57.9 percent would not be eligible, even though about two-thirds of the school are Asian-American and sent more than 200 students to the specialized high schools in 2018, according to the Daily News.
The lawsuit, filed last week, charges the de Blasio Administration with violating the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prohibits the government from enacting policies with the intent to discriminate against a disfavored race.
“The Chinese American Citizens Alliance was founded to fight for the civil rights of Chinese Americans nearly 125 years ago after the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Acts were put into law. It wasn’t until December 17, 1943, nearly 75 years ago to this day, that the Acts were repealed. And today, De Blasio wants to re-institute Chinese Exclusion in education, right here in our city,” said Chin.
“We Chinese Americans are here, in this city, in this country, as fellow citizens together with others. We support better education for all students in New York City. We advocated for the expansion of Gifted and Talented and Honors programs in every district in the city, so everyone, regardless of community, could get the best education they can take advantage of, and compete for the Specialized High Schools on equal footing if they wish.
“What we oppose are divisive policies that judge our students not for their individual ability or desire for a Specialized High School, but for the race and ethnicity into which they were born. Those policies are un-American, and we seek justice and protection in the courts,” she added.
But while the matter is being fought out in the courts, Chin said it is also galvanizing many Asian-Americans in local politics as well. This is an important matter, particularly in Brooklyn, which has a large and growing Asian-American population, but no elected legislators.
Chin said more people are engaged politically and that those running in the special election for public advocate early next year are expected to weigh in on the issue.
“We still don’t know who all the candidates are, but a lot of parents I spoke to personally said this is the first time they ever registered,” said Chin, adding that CACAGNY members have been working on different campaigns.
“It’s very important that people get informed, use their vote and speak to their legislators,” she said.
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who has declared he is running for public advocate, stopped short of endorsing the lawsuit, but was critical of de Blasio’s plan.
“Instead of pitting Asian American and immigrant students against black and Hispanic students, we should fight every single day to provide quality public education for every child in this city. For the last few years, the city failed to secure enough funding and resources to deliver access to quality classrooms and instead ended up scapegoating one test as the causation of inequality in our public schools while vilifying an entire racial group,” said Kim.
“This is unacceptable. As the next public advocate, I will do whatever I can to fix the root cause of our segregated and unequal school system, which is fundamentally tied to underfunding and a lack of resources.”