City’s policy is discriminatory, advocates argue
Since he was a child, Carlos Lopez has been playing basketball and baseball.
Although he says he would have loved to play sports at his Mott Haven high school, it wasn’t until last year that he had that option. “There was no team before the Small Schools Athletic League,” Lopez said.
Lopez is a senior at The International Community High School on Morris Ave., one of 42 city schools where students won’t be able to play organized sports any time soon because the City says it is cutting off funding to its programs.
David Garcia-Rosen, a former dean and teacher at International, founded the Small Schools Athletic League in 2011 to address what he says are inequalities in the way the city’s education department funds school sports.
He says he wants his students to benefit from the same kinds of athletic programs the City’s education department routinely funds in wealthier schools.
“As your percentage of white students shoots up or your percentage of students of color goes down, your access to huge sports programs increases dramatically,” he said, adding that the education department “has created a system of such inequity” that only fundamental reform will change it.
The Small Schools league has been asking the City for $1.25 million dollars in 2015 to keep its present teams afloat.
After negotiations with the education department failed, Garcia-Rosen said, he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the City for discriminatory practices.
To field a team, schools are now required to apply through the education department’s Public School Athletic League. That process lacks transparency and favors big schools in wealthy areas, Garcia-Rosen argues.
The City’s preferences are stark, he said. Data from the 2012-2013 school year shows city schools with the most sports teams also have the highest percentage of white students.
This fiscal year, “the 50 high schools with the least students of color got 84” new teams, he wrote in an email. By contrast, “not one team was granted to the high schools that are 100% students of color,” he wrote.
But while the City has declined to fund the league, it “went ahead and gave out table tennis and badminton to all the same schools again,” as in previous years, he said.
A spokesman for the education department, however, denied such inequities exist.
“The PSAL constantly expands opportunities to meet the needs of our diverse student population and looks to add new sports offerings each season,” a spokesman for the DOE wrote in an email to The Herald.
Baloney, said Garcia-Rosen, pointing out that the City has funded 42 teams for Tottenville High School in Staten Island, compared with zero at International Community High School.
The Small Schools league maintains that the City should freeze allocations to schools it already funds, in order to even the playing field. In addition, Garcia-Rosen and his supporters say the education dept. should create a task force to probe imbalances between sports programs in schools in poor and wealthy neighborhoods.
Elias Sideras, who oversees the girl’s baseball, softball and volleyball at Bronx Bridges High School in Soundview, says the loss of sports will harm student performance. The athletic program has led to dramatic improvements in grades, he said, adding that it offers “a different experience to students who have the commitment and the interest.”
Losing sports at Bridges could potentially kill students’ incentive, he said, adding that teachers have to grant approval for students to play on the school’s teams, which provides a major source of motivation for many to excel in the classroom, he said.
“We’re going to go back into the same situation of trying to find that hook to keep our students focused in school,” he said. Jasmin Arias, 17, plays on the Volleyball team at Bronx Bridges.
“It has been a great experience to actually get to play a sport and be able to join a league,” Arias said. “I am more motivated to be in school and do well.”