Point of View: Position Papers

Testimony of Michael Meyers in Opposition to Proposed Latino Leadership School
March 17, 1993

I ask that the Board of Education table consideration of the proposed District One Leadership Secondary School. If you do not vote to table, I urge you to vote against the resolution that would establish such a school.

I fully appreciate that this school is one among a slew of “community-based” schools designed to set new visions and special admissions criteria for innovative programming. That, in my view, is a regrettable trend for public education. But a school that is designed to serve a primarily Latino student population is not innovative. It is suspect as a scheme to foster segregation. The explanation attached to the resolution to authorize establishment of the yet unnamed school refers to the school as “The Latino Leadership School.” It was designed as the result of a proposal by the Latino Leadership School Collaborative in 1992.

Last May, in response to press reports of the proposal, the New York Civil Rights Coalition and the New York Civil Liberties Union jointly wrote to Board of Education President H. Carl McCall and to Chancellor Fernandez raising our concern about such a school. We said in our letter that this specification of education raised serious legal issues with respect to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and that the establishment of a “special” school for Latino children on the basis of “saving” these youth from low self-esteem and the afflictions of their environment would, in effect, transmit and confirm negative assumptions, stereotypes and attitudes about them. Such attitudes are what account for the disproportionate numbers of Hispanic and black children already in so-called “special education” classes, — a problem that has, so far, eluded serious attention, much less remedy from the Board of Education and Schools Chancellor.

It does appear that a special program for a population that is comprised of some non-English speakers is subterfuge for wholesale segregation. For instance, last May, it was reported that the proposed school’s “ideal population would be half Spanish speakers [and] half English.” In this context, the promise of “open enrollment” is mere pretext to accomplish the impermissible. The segregative intent of the governmental actors is clear, — to establish a school for Latinos in a neighborhood with a large concentration of Latinos.

We are in a period of time in which we are revising our common understandings of words and concepts. It is an “Alice in Wonderland” time, when civil rights mean the opposite of integration, when our notion of civil rights has been converted to stand for what the George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts always wanted, — segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

The fact that public school segregation is desired by the putative representatives of an ethnic group is not a legitimate nor compelling argument. The courts have said this, just as they have said that even if purposefully segregated schools improved the education of the minority, constitutionally such segregated schools would have to be rejected. The state may not, through affirmative public action, mandate, ratify or reinforce segregation. Moreover, a school program that is “open” to every one, but merely emphasizes the “educational needs” of one ethnic group, is implicit racial exclusion. A “Latino Leadership School” speaks for itself.

All of New York’s students need and deserve an end to segregative practices and to stereotyping. The revitalization and functional integration of our public school system will depend on and require strong leadership on your part. The creation of a Latino Leadership School would be sounding the bugle for a cowardly retreat from your responsibility to promote integration. This is a misguided and mischievous proposal.
I urge you to reject it.