- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2021

A parents’ rights group has filed a federal discrimination complaint against the New York City Department of Education for allowing a Manhattan middle school to separate students by race for social justice discussions. 

Parents Defending Education filed a letter of complaint Thursday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The nonprofit advocacy group asks for an investigation into reports that Lower Manhattan Community School segregated seventh- and eighth-grade students into racial “affinity groups” for discussions in late November.

The complaint says the discussion violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbid “discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”

The parents’ group “makes this complaint as an interested third-party organization that opposes racial discrimination and political indoctrination in America’s schools,” the letter states.

The complaint includes a Nov. 18 article from the New York Post that quoted Principal Shanna Douglas, who told parents in an email the discussions would “undo the legacy of racism and oppression in this country that impacts our school community.”

Her email indicated that students would be divided into five categories according to race — White, Asian, African American, Hispanic and multi-racial.

Ms. Douglas also said that students would have the option of being in an “opt-out” group, presumably for those who felt uncomfortable with the exercise.

The student body is 44% Asian, 29% White, 15% Hispanic and 8% Black, according to her email.

A spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, which oversees the city’s public schools, emailed a statement to The Washington Times on Monday. 

“This optional program was developed in close coordination with both the School Leadership Team, PTA and families,” spokesperson Nathaniel Styer writes in the statement. 

“School leadership has engaged families around programming that celebrates the diversity of the community and it is abundantly clear to both students and parents that anyone can opt-out of this two-day celebration if they desire,” he adds.

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights did not respond Monday to a request for comment. An official who did not wish to be quoted said all complaints eventually get reviewed and assigned a timeline to report the government’s conclusions.

Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, wrote the complaint letter. She told The Times that the Lower Manhattan program reflects “a disturbing uptick in the use of racially-segregated spaces in K-12 schools,” a trend she said has “trickled down from universities” in recent years.

“This practice is not just morally reprehensible, but it also disregards 50 years of constitutional jurisprudence established by Brown v. Board of Education,” Ms. Neily said in an email, referring to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in public education. “Public schools in America cannot treat students differently on the basis of skin color, period.”

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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